May
09
2007

Transplant ethics and The Jigsaw Man

Diorama of the first heart transplant surgery: Is this the future of prisoner executions?Courtesy Trygve Berge
Diorama of the first heart transplant surgery: Is this the future of prisoner executions?
Courtesy Trygve Berge
I read a rather fascinating story last night by Larry Niven called The Jigsaw Man. Without giving away the plot completely, it spells out the possible dystopian future we could face as organ transplants become more efficient and common. In the story, society is not able to resist the temptation to harvest organs from criminals who are executed for their crimes. However, as the demand for organs grows, the list of crimes that are punishable by execution grows as well (think traffic offenses). Where does it stop? Well, you can read the story.

This story, written in the late 60s, is a great example of science fiction predicting the future in a small way. We reported recently (Give a kidney, do less time: State deals with organ donation ethics) on California lawmakers considering a law that could give prisoners up to 180 days off their sentence for donating a kidney. If we start trading time of prison terms for organs, why shouldn't we require organ harvesting from executed prisoners? I personally think this would be ethically atrocious but I also know there are allot of people waiting on the list for organ transplants.

What do you think? Do you see any sort of future where prisoners are considered acceptable organ donors, with or without their permission?

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