Imagine a man who is powerful enough to enslave an entire planet of human beings and use them to satisfy his own desires, whatever those desires may be. Usually someone like this would need a military force behind him, but this man does not. The ‘Man of Steel’ (who everyone knows as Superman) is endowed with the strength of thousands of men, the ability to fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes, and breathe in space. Needless to say, Superman doesn’t need an army in order to become the slave-ruler of the entire Earth. But he doesn’t; in fact, Superman does the exact opposite. He decides that he will protect planet earth and its inhabitants. Why would Superman do this? The answer seems to fall squarely in the explanatory power of Virtue Ethics.
Right off the bat, it seems as though the directors wanted to make it obvious that Superman’s home planet, Krypton, was an outworking of Plato’s city analogy. Granted, Plato’s dialogue about the city was not meant to be a political philosophy, but an analogy to the human psyche, but Plato’s influence on Superman doesn’t stop there. In fact, some have observed that the young Clark Kent was gaining some wisdom from Plato in the movie. Additionally, Plato’s ‘Ring of Gyges’ story seems to play a pretty significant role in the formation of Superman’s character. His actions are dictated by something other than the consequences of being caught behaving in a certain way.
Biomedical technology is one of the fastest growing areas of research in modern society. Whether it is reproductive technologies, cloning, genetic engineering or any other topic, people generally approach these with an attitude of both awe and hesitation. Most of us recognize the seemingly limitless potential of new technologies when it comes to curing diseases, elongating lifespans or increasing quality of life. At the same time, we also recognize that these new technologies bring difficult (and seemingly unanswerable) ethical questions. It seems that the reason many people find these questions so hard to answer is that they don’t have a well-established ethical framework from which to answer them. Once we establish an ethical framework, we can explore the answers to the difficult questions. In this paper, I am going to take a virtue ethics perspective on the topic of post-mortem organ donation. I don’t plan on defending virtue ethics as a theory, but I will clarify some of the important issues as they relate to the donation of organs after death.
A brief look at the medical statistics reveals a significant problem; there is ahuge disparity between those who are waiting for organs and the number of organs available. “According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) 83,472 people were waiting for an organ transplant in the United States as of January 2004. From January to October of 2003, 19,101 transplants were performed” (Glannon, 2005). As of today (December 3, 2013), there are 120,845 people waiting for organs in the United States (www.unos.org). The number has increased by approximately 37,000 people in only 9 years, and doesn’t show any signs of decreasing. It is obvious that the human body is a valuable resource, and until medical technology researchers develop fully functional artificial organs, the human body is the primary source for the ‘spare parts’ used in organ transplants. It is also clear that “… we are being prodigally wasteful in our funerary practices and stupidly selfish in our use of vital organs while we live and even more so when we die”. (Fletcher, 1979) So what should we do? Should we donate our organs after we die? When approached from a virtue ethics perspective, we may have a moral obligation to donate our organs after our death. Donating our organs may be how we could continue behaving virtuously even after our life is over.