The Best Articles on Organ Ethics

As medical and technological science advance, the ethical quandaries that our organs raise also increase.

Below we have dug through our ten year archive to bring you articles that cover topics such as kidneys lost in transit, lab grown brains becoming conscious, hackers turning organs into ransomeware and whole human head transplants.

Transplant Organs Missing In Transit

JoNel Aleccia | Reveal | 8th February 2020 | U

Surgeons will personally collect and transport hearts, which survive only four to six hours out of the body. But kidneys and pancreases – which have longer shelf lives – rely for shipment within the US on packing and dispatching by a network of non-profits. They often travel as cargo, with no special status. Some miss connecting flights or end up as lost luggage. “If an airline forgets to put a kidney on a plane or a courier misses a flight because he got lost or stuck in traffic, there is no consequence” (2,800 words)

Can Lab-Grown Brains Become Conscious?

Sara Reardon | Nature | 27th October 2020 | U

Seed-sized versions of human brains, known as "brain organoids", can be grown from human stem cells, and have become a "familiar fixture" in biology labs. Last year a US lab shut down an experiment after its brains-in-vats started producing "waves of activity resembling those seen in premature babies". So, probably, yes, lab-grown brains can become conscious. Is this good or bad news? (2,800 words)

Lives Of The Moral Saints

David Johnson | Boston Review | 17th April 2013 | U

Writer Larissa McFarquhar talks about her current work on cases of extreme moral virtue — for example, a person who donates a kidney to a stranger; a Boston couple who give away almost all their money. "To me, the compelling question here was not extremity as such, but whether there is any limit to what can be morally required of us, and whether there’s anything wrong with a life that’s lived according to extreme moral principles" (3,369 words)

Turning The Body Into A Wire

Shreyas Sen et al | IEEE Spectrum | 24th November 2020 | U

We have pacemakers, earbuds and insulin pumps; we wear sensors and swallow probes reporting our bodies' most intimate behaviours; smart contact lenses will soon augment our sight; our organs and senses grow ever more hackable. When we have an Internet Of Bodies, can a Ransomware Of Bodies be far behind? No. But here is a strategy for self-defence — the body as LAN (3,250 words)

First Human Head Transplant In Two Years

Helen Thomson | New Scientist | 25th February 2015 | R

Imagine the excitement among experimental philosophers if this comes off. A neurosurgeon says the techniques are pretty much in place to perform a successful human head transplant. He wants to assemble an expert team to do a first one in 2017. "When the recipient wakes up they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body" (1,470 words)

Human-Monkey Chimeras

Julian Savulescu & Julian Koplin | Practical Ethics | 20th April 2021 | U

Scientists report promising results from experiments to combine human stem-cells with monkey embryos. The immediate aim is to grow organs in animals suitable for transplanting into humans. But the ultimate product could be a living chimera, part-human and part-monkey. Horrific in a way, but also salutary if this forces us to recognise that humans are on a continuum with other animals (1,200 words)

Driving Mr Albert

Michael Paterniti | Harper's | 1st October 1997 | M

A road-trip across America with Albert Einstein's brain — and with the retired New Jersey pathologist, Thomas Harvey, who helped himself to the brain while doing an autopsy on Einstein in 1955. Forty years later, Harvey decides that he wants to return what remains of the brain to Einstein's grand-daughter, Evelyn, in Berkeley. "We just start driving. For four thousand miles. Me, Harvey, and, in the trunk, Einstein’s brain" (18,000 words)

The Largest Organ We Never Knew We Had

Tanya Basu | Daily Beast | 27th March 2018

We think of an organ as a well-defined object within the body — heart, liver, kidney etc. Medicine recognises 79 organs. The contention here is that we have an 80th organ, an interstitium, extending in a thin layer around the body. “The new organ is a thin layer of dense connective tissue sandwiched just under our skin and within the middle layer of every visceral organ, a thin mesh of tissue separating every muscle and all the tissue around every vein and artery, from largest to smallest” (2,360 words)

Want more? From our friends at Five Books, five recommended books on medical ethics and organ donation:

Body Shopping
The author and activist talks about medical ethics and selects her five top books on the subject. She raises questions as to whether we own our bodies, and the ethics behind selling human organs.

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