A polemic on principles: reflections on the Pittsburgh protocol

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1993 Jun;3(2):217-30. doi: 10.1353/ken.0.0042.


The Pittsburgh protocol relies heavily on traditional moral distinctions, particularly the principle of double effect, to justify "managing" the dying process of a prospective organ donor in order to yield viable organs for transplantation. These traditional moral distinctions can be useful, particularly in casuistic or case-specific moral analysis, but their invocation here is unpersuasive, and potentially dangerous. The protocol relies on elaborate apologetics to avoid a candid confrontation with the moral challenge it poses--society's willingness to bring about the death of one patient (in isolation and with potential discomfort) in order to benefit another patient. Not only will this protocol fail to solve the problem it purports to address, it threatens to undermine the delicate social accommodations by which we distinguish the living from the dead, permissible "allowings to die" from impermissible killings, and those from whom organs may be removed from those whose bodies must remain inviolate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death*
  • Death
  • Decision Making, Organizational
  • Double Effect Principle*
  • Ethical Theory
  • Ethics*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Euthanasia, Passive
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Hospitals, University / standards
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Morals
  • Pennsylvania
  • Social Values
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / organization & administration
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / standards*
  • Trust
  • United States
  • Withholding Treatment*