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"Worthiness" for Organ Transplantation
Amy Nguyen

Jul 05, 2023

Is it ethical to consider someone “unworthy” for an organ transplant?

One organ donor from living or deceased can save up to eight lives, providing patients with chronic diseases a second chance to live. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is the organization involved in the process of organ transplant and donation. Transplants may be needed for a patient whose organs fail due to an illness, injury, or genetic condition. According to UNOS, the factors determining if a patient will receive an organ donation are the urgency of their medical condition, duration of their time on the waiting list, organ size, blood type, and genetic makeup. According to Penn Medicine, about 170 million people are registered organ donors but out of every 1,000 individuals that pass away, only 3 of them die in the circumstances that allow them to donate their organs after death. This leads to an organ shortage resulting in longer wait times for those who need organ transplants and potentially death. There has been debate about whether the patient's lifestyle choices should affect access to organ transplants since there is an organ shortage. Patients should not be excluded from the transplant list because it would be unfair to determine someone’s “worthiness” based on their unhealthy lifestyle choices. 

According to Bedford and Jones in 2014, there are ethical concerns when discussing unhealthy lifestyle choices such as substance use or unhealthy diets, as some people advocate that those choices should play a part in determining if the patient should qualify for an organ transplant. Individuals have autonomy over their decisions or how they want to live their lives. However, the decisions they make can be affected by external factors. For instance, according to YaleNews, healthy foods are less available to low-income neighborhoods, leading to poor diet quality disparities. Unhealthy diets can lead to chronic illnesses like kidney failure or heart disease.

Additionally, some individuals turn to substance use to cope with their personal problems. Before they know it, they rely on those substances and become addicted. Even addicts attempt to get sober, many barriers exist, especially in underserved communities. According to the Rural Health Information Hub, rural communities have limited resources, such as a lack of mental health services, transportation barriers, and insufficient capacity at rehabilitation facilities, making it difficult for people to treat their substance use disorders. 

Since many factors contribute to the shortage of organs, some people argue that those with an unhealthy style should be denied an organ transplant. However, it would not be fair and would exacerbate the disparities in healthcare. A potential solution to the organ shortage is to provide free seminars or workshops to educate the public on organ transplants or even provide a summary when people check yes or no while filling out their DMV applications.




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