Madison Collaborative

Teaching Social Justice and Bioethics

Thu, 30 Mar 2017 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Festival, Allegheny Room

Scarce resource allocation problems such as the distribution of organs for transplantation are an excellent method for teaching ethical reasoning skills to undergraduate science and technology students. This lecture will describe a method for using liver allocation procedures as a class activity for teaching ethical principles such as social justice in an undergraduate bioethics course.

Despite our best efforts to encourage citizens to become organ donors, there are not enough livers available to meet the demand from patients awaiting liver transplants. Additionally, due to demographic differences between geographic regions, there are concerns that current OPTN/UNOS policies unfairly benefit some patients because of their location. As a result, in 2016 OPTN/UNOS proposed to modify the boundaries of its regions to create a more fair allocation of transplantable livers.

Dr. Amanda Biesecker and Prof. David McGraw think that this scenario presents an ideal opportunity for undergraduate students to reconsider the entire methodology for allocating livers for transplant. We have encouraged our students to evaluate the OPTN/UNOS rules using several theoretical techniques, including (1) the maximization of utility, (2) the equitable distribution based on principles of justice, (3) the respect for persons in light of fundamental human rights, and (4) an Aristotelean conception of an ideal society, particularly following Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach.

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