In his article “The Survival Lottery,” Harris suggests a situationwhere a possible course of action would be to kill a healthy person and use hisorgans for transplantation, thereby saving several lives at the cost of one.
However the argument Harris presents, which he claims to be rational, doesintuitively raise a certain moral repugnance. The issues addressed such aswhether letting die is equivalent to killing, or is killing the innocent everjustified, are controversial in themselves and Harriss views have beenroundly criticised. This Essay will examine the main issues raised by thesurvival lottery and attempt to prove Harriss claim that it would be arational thing to do is in fact wrong. I will not do this by appealing to someobjective moral standard, such as we have a duty to never kill the innocent, asthis will inevitably lead to deadlock and lower the debate to a matter of yourown personal opinion.
Instead I will argue that a Reductio ad Absurdum can belevelled against Harriss argument because of the untenable consequences itwould lead to. By revealing the weakness of the argument for the lottery we canshow why it shouldnt take place without being drawn into a conflict betweenconsequentialist and objectivist based ethical theories Harriss argument isbased on the “maximising lives” theory, as he believes there is valuein numbers and that two lives are twice as valuable as one. From this premise hegives the example in the survival lottery of two patients Mr. Y and Mr. Z whoare certain to die unless they get organ transplants, but no spare organs are tobe found. They both suggest that a healthy person, (Mr.
A) be seized, killedpainlessly and his organs be used for the transplantation. They argue that thisis the rational and morally correct thing to do, for to not do so would besacrificing two lives to save one. It is the right course of action since itmaximises the number of lives saved albeit at the cost of a healthy and innocentperson. To combat the fear, worry and possible abuse by doctors of who should beseized and “disorganised” Mr.
Y and Z suggest a lottery as a fair wayof determining who should be the donor. Mr Y and Z do have a strong case, theycan argue that they are just as innocent as Mr A, as its not their fault theyneed organ transplants. For the doctors to refuse to treat them is in effectdiscriminating against sick people. When we try to point out to them thatdoctors have a duty not to kill anyone, Mr Y and Z could claim that this isbegging the question as the doctors through there inaction will be killing bothof them. Perhaps this is where we can attack Harris, he equates killing withletting die for as a consequentialist it does not matter to him how the deathscome about, merely the fact that they have occurred is whats important. However we could argue that by killing Mr.
A we will have performed an ACTION,it will have been a man made death. On the other hand if we “kill” Mr. Y and Z we will have let nature take its course, no act has been done by anagent and can we be held responsible for things we dont do ? We could use theexample of starving children in Africa, if we dont always send aid to themare we responsible for killing them ? However this does not settle the question,we have merely provided an alternative viewpoint and on what basis can we saythis is more morally correct than Harriss view ? Maclean tries to side stepthis deadlock by arguing that the killing of Mr A is not moral question at all,in fact its “morally impossible. ” Harris assumes that the organs forMr.
Y and Z are available albeit at the death of an innocent person. Macleanstates that although the organs are physically available, they are not morallyavailable and if this is the case there should be no question of killing Mr A. By denying the availability of organs we can then say the doctors have no courseof action to take, Mr Y and Z cannot be saved and the question of whetherletting them die is tantamount to killing them does not even arise. However Idont believe this has resolved the conflict as it has simply provided anotherview of the value of human life. Maclean accuses Harris of operating a”metaphysical notion of value whereon lives are rated as more or lessvaluable on some supposedly objective scale of values independently of whovalues them.
” This has the effect of degrading human beings to nothing morethan expendable “units of organs” and no longer seen as individuals. Harris of course would disagree saying his view, since it maximises the numberof human lives, it places more value on life. Both views can be rationallyjustified and the deadlock remains, the question is on what basis can we ruleone view to be moral the other immoral? I dont believe we can, but what wecan do is try to show that the rationality behind the argument for one of theviews is fallacious and if this is the case we can then reject that view. Thenext part of my Essay will reveal how Harriss case can be successfullyattacked and shown to have absurd consequences without having to appeal to somemetaphysical notion of the value of life, or an axiom such as the sanctity ofhuman life, thus breaking the deadlock doing so creates.
To establish ourReductio ad Absurdum lets examine the premises Mr. Y and Zs argument relieson. Firstly they state that all three people in this situation, themselves andMr. A are all innocent. This is important as it removes any other considerationon who should be killed other than the basis of numbers, so for the moment weare accepting the maximising principle so that we can show the absurdity itleads to. Mr Y and Z then in effect “point a finger” at Mr A andaccuse him of living at the cost of 2 lives.
This is their reason for killinghim, the force from which they rationalise their course of action. But theabsurdity follows form this, Mr. Y and Z have no basis on which to “pointthe finger” at Mr A and level a 2 lives against 1 argument against him. Mr. A has every right to refute this by pointing the finger back at either Mr. Y orZ and saying ” you have no right to single me out, for I accept that if youkill me then 2 people will live, but if I where to kill either of you then 2people will also live.
Myself for I will not have to be killed, and whicheverone of you I dont kill, cause we could use the others organs to save him. Since you claim we are all innocent, and your only argument against me is thatkilling me will save 2 lives, I have shown that you cant use this argumentagainst anyone without them reversing it back upon you. ” Thus Mr Y andZs argument is defeated their premise that killing 1 person to save 2 stillstands, but they cannot use it against a third party such as Mr A. Another formof this argument can take is that if we accept Mr Y and Zs premise that themore lives we save the better, then it would make sense for Mr A to kill aperson.
For in doing so he would be saving 3 lives, his own and Mr Y and Zs. But just say this person before being killed by Mr A, said “hold on aminute, lets kill this guy here, this way we will save 4 peoples lives, mine,yours Mr Y and Mr. Zs. This establishes a regress with each person whosabout to be killed using the same argument, and its difficult to see how toescape from it. In conclusion from these attacks we can proclaim the argumentfor the survival lottery as presented by Harris is fallacious and in theoryleads to absurdity. I have chosen not to mention the practical difficulties ofthe survival lottery such as which groups if any should be excluded from thedraw, as I have not needed to.
BibliographyHarris, John “The Survival lottery” from Applied Ethics ed. PSinger (Oxford 1986) Maclean, Anne ” The elimination of Morality” (London 1993 ) McKnight Chris J. “The Survival of the Survival Lottery”in Journal of Applied Ethics Vol. 13 No.1 1996Philosophy