LETTER TO THE BOOKSHELF
A letter regarding Nancy Scheper-Hughes's review of Raising the Dead
The reviewer seems to be looking for certain answers to specific, difficult medical ethics and social questions, complaining that Munson spent too much time on the wrong issues. For example, she asserts that Munson focuses on the individual at the expense of the larger social frame in which certain social classes are valued more than others. The author's attention to respect for the individual is a sound religious, moral and ethical position. Too many in the ethics community have accepted the thinking that it is all right to sacrifice the individual for the greater good of the community. Perhaps Munson does spend too much effort expounding the side of the transplant recipient. Yet, the essential ethical standard is to value each human life without regard to its developmental state, social status, quality of life or any other measure of life success.
Reviewer Nancy Scheper-Hughes responds:
Respect for the individual and for human dignity are essential tenets of classical medical ethics. Both of these are threatened, however, when the body and its organs are reified, commodified and allowed to enter into the market, or when one individual's survival comes at the expense of another human being. The invisibility of the organ donor in Munson's book evokes a timeless moral and ethical "gray zone"-the lengths to which it is permissible to go in the interests of saving or prolonging one's own life at the expense of diminishing another person's life or their sense of security or at the expense of sacrificing cherished cultural and political values (such as social solidarity, justice or equity). The problem is that a rapacious demand for transplantable organs has led to abuses in procuring them from individuals (living donors in particular) who are sometimes less valued than recipients, and whose needs are less respected.
Professor of Medical Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley
Director, Organs Watch