Saturday, August 25, 2007

Zell Kravinsky Gave Away a Kidney...

...to save a stranger who needed it. See Ian Parker, "The Gift," The New Yorker, August 2, 2004, p. 54. He also gave away most of his considerable fortune ($45 million).
His wife complained mainly about his decision to give away one of his two kidneys.
What -- if anything -- was wrong with Kravinsky's logic?

Kravinsky calls himself a utilitarian. In the spirit of Peter Singer, I guess. But that self-characterization strikes me as odd. Zarinsky seems more like St. Francis of Assisi -- but without Christian or other religious trappings.

In an interview on BBC radio (dated August 25, 2007) ZK called a refusal of a person (any person) to donate one of two healthy kidneys "murder." He also wondered whether he would be obligated to give away his other kidney if doing so would save the life of a donee who he knew would -- through, e.g., medical research -- save the lives of hundreds, thousands, or millions of other people.

Of course, putting aside the question of Zell Kravinsky's duty to his family, Zell Kravinsky probably needs no logic to defend himself. If ZK chooses to give away his fortune and one of his kidneys, is it possible to argue that Kravinsky is doing something wrong or "incorrect"? (Well, yes, I know: it is almost always possible to make an argument -- if, that is, even a patently absurd argument counts as an argument. But you know -- seriously, admit it, you do know -- what I mean.)

Perhaps there is a slippery slope problem here. The surgical procedure to remove a kidney does slightly increase the donor's risk of death. But suppose that the increased risk of death is substantial -- e.g., 10%. What then? Some observers might contend that in such a situation the ZKs of the world would need a justification. (But, note, this revised situation is not much like suicide -- since even in the revised scenario the donation is made to save another person's life, not to terminate the grief or suffering of the donor.)
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