Hazel McHaffie

donating one’s brain to science

Moral obligation

Every now and then something crops up that challenges my thinking on ethical issues, and I’m reminded all over again that these questions are always evolving and it behoves me to stay on my toes and constantly revisit them.

This week it was a half day seminar on ‘Leaving your brain to science: Engaging with law and ethics’, organised by Edinburgh University. Now, although I’ve been immersed in the subject of organ donation for the last few years, as you know, I hadn’t explored giving the brain specifically, so I was intrigued to know what would emerge. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’d like to share something of the workshop that concluded the day.

It focused on moral obligation. We were given a collection of possible actions which might be of benefit to others and asked to rank them in order. At one end was ‘MORAL OBLIGATION’ which essentially meant the action is of recognised benefit to others with very little risk to oneself, making it something where there is a high level of obligation to carry it out (eg. on finding a fire one should summon the fire brigade). At the other end of the scale was ‘MORAL SUPEREROGATION’, meaning that the action might well be deemed praiseworthy, but it carries risks of such an order that there would be no obligation to do it (eg. rushing into a blazing building to rescue someone); it goes way beyond what might be considered a duty.

Rating moral obligationThe actions to be ranked were:

Live organ donation

Cadaveric organ donation

Egg donation

Sperm donation

Giving samples of tissue for research

Bone marrow donation

Donating the brain for research

Blood donation

How did YOU respond?Why don’t you try it yourself? Weigh up the potential benefits and costs and see where you feel a sense of duty/moral obligation takes YOU. You might well be surprised – as I was – at where ‘giving your brain after death‘ comes.

 

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