The donor organ shortage resolved

© July 2010 Paul Cooijmans

The problem

It is generally felt there is a huge shortage of donor organs for transplantation, and patients in need of an organ are typically placed on years-long waiting lists. The supply of organs from deceased persons like traffic victims is low, and the ever greater ability of doctors to keep the ill or wounded alive is not helping.

To add insult to injury, most people do not carry a codicil, and donor registration is not catching on despite nation-wide campaigns. A few countries tackle that by making everyone an organ donor by default who has not explicitly indicated otherwise, but in most places precious organs go unused because many have failed to express their approval of donorship. Artificially grown or manufactured organs will relieve this problem over time, but too late for many of the current patients.

The solution

Is there really no quick and easy solution? Well, actually there is: Making convicted criminals organ donors as an obligatory part of their sentence will open up a large source of organs. The beneficial effect of this measure can be further enhanced by excluding the worst of them as recipients of organs, and by adding to the donor register - that currently offers only "Yes" and "No" - a delightful little option like "Yes, but not to criminals", therewith rendering donorship more inviting to good civilians. After all, one does not want one's beloved innards to go to a thief, swindler, batterer, woman-beater, rapist, murderer, terrorist, child molester, or crooked psychometrician, does one?

Of course, the number of convicts passing away spontaneously may not always suffice to meet the demand for organs, but that small problem is easily overcome by persuading the most hardened and heavily sentenced recidivists to honourably donate their parts in vivo or, might that still not fulfil the need, undergo the kind and humane act of euthanasia to thus release all of their components at any desired moment. While admittedly that may lower the evildoers' life expectancy somewhat, it on the plus side is guaranteed to bring down recidivism into the bargain.

Following full organ donation, repeating is not an option. Following full organ donation, repeating is not an option.

Far behind us lie the dark days of primitive, cruel life-ending punitive measures like the gallows, the guillotine, the firing squad, the electric chair, the garrote, drawing and quartering, the stake, impalement, or tying the rascal up over a field of fast-growing bamboo of the sharp, pointy variant. How much more enlightened and humane it is to combine punishment with the charitable deed of donation; to turn felons into benefactors; to bestow those who are the most evil with that messianic sense of fulfilment that comes with realizing one is saving the lives of many through one's sacrifice. The scallywag will indeed go with tears in one's eyes!

Responses to comments on this article


If one would simply move from an "opt-in" system for organ donation to an "opt-out" system, this would raise the number of donors drastically without infringing anyone's right to choose, through the phenomenon of "status quo bias".


No doubt, but the mere fact that something is effective does not make it the ethically desirable thing to do. "Opt-out" systems must be applied sparingly and with extreme care, given the risk of abuse, especially in serious matters like this. Even with a trivial thing like e-mail newsletters, "opt-in" is legally required, and "opt-out" considered a criminal offense named "spam", let alone what to make of an "opt-out" approach to matters of life and death like organ donation. As already mentioned in the article, only a small number of countries do this.


Considering the increase in donors obtainable by introducing an "opt-out" system, there is no need to split the population into two arbitrary groups, "criminal" and "non-criminal".


The distinction between criminals and non-criminals is in no way arbitrary, but is very real and substantial, and made by the criminals themselves through the act of committing their crimes. Their is absolutely nothing arbitrary in committing a crime (ask the victims).