Why Not Harvest Their Organs?

Last night my sister Kristina asked me the following question: “In States that have the Death Penalty, why don’t we ‘redistribute’ the organs of the executed?  That way those who took life (lives) would be used to save life (lives).”

My initial response was to trot out a Kantian line about using people as mere means, etc., but I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to argue that executing the criminal is consistent with respecting his personhood but harvesting his organs upon his demise is not.  I mean, IF it is permissible to kill them, why isn’t it also permissible to redistribute their organs?  Why should these incredibly valuable resources go to waste?

Let me put the question another way: Can one sensibly defend the morality of the death penalty while also rejecting the morality of redistributing the organs of those the State permissibly executes?

When I consider this question, it occurs to me that we probably shouldn’t provide juries with an incentive to assign the death penalty.  But is there a more straightforward moral objection to this redistribution scheme, one that is NOT also an objection to the death penalty in general?

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One Response to Why Not Harvest Their Organs?

  1. Josh says:

    Wouldn’t one way be to provide a non-utilitarian justification for the death penalty, and then criticize the distribution of organs on anti-utilitarian grounds?

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