The ethics of post-mortem organ retention and use is widely debated in bioethics and law. However, the fundamental ethical issues have often been inadequately treated. According to one argument, dead bodies are no longer “persons”. Given the great benefits dead bodies offer to human kind, they should be automatically treated as public property: when the person dies, the body becomes a public thing (a res publica, a republic). This paper articulates the ethical issues involved in organ and tissue retention and use, both in the case in which the deceased’s wishes are known and in the case in which the wishes are not known. It contends that a dead body is not a republic. The state should maximise availability of organs and tissues by inviting or requiring citizens to make an informed and responsible choice on the matter.
Keywords: ethics of organ and tissue retention and use; organ transplants; post-mortem decisions; the role of the family
Source: Simona Giordano. Journal of Medical Ethics 2005;31:470-475.