Allocation of transplantable organs: do people want to punish patients for causing their illness?

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Some people believe patients with alcoholic cirrhosis should not receive equal priority for scarce transplantable organs. This may reflect a belief that these patients (1) are personally responsible for causing their own illnesses, (2) have poor transplant prognoses, or (3) are unworthy because they have engaged in socially undesirable behavior. We explore the roles that social desirability and personal responsibility have in people's judgments about transplant allocation. We presented prospective jurors with 4 scenarios, asking them to distribute 100 transplantable organs among 2 groups of 100 patients each. In each scenario, 1 group of patients, but not the other, was described as having a history of unhealthy behavior (alcohol or cigarette use) associated with a poorer prognosis. In some scenarios, alcohol or cigarette use was said to cause the organ failure. In others, it only contributed to the patients' transplant prognosis. We also obtained self-reports of subjects' own smoking status. Subjects allocated significantly fewer than half the organs to those with unhealthy behaviors and worse prognoses (33%; P <.001), but the specific behavior (alcohol versus cigarette use) was not significantly associated with subjects' allocation choices. Significantly fewer organs were allocated to patients with behavior responsible for causing their diseases than to other patients (P <.0001). Subjects who never smoked discriminated the most and current smokers discriminated the least against patients with a history of unhealthy behavior (P <.0001). The public's transplantation allocation preferences are influenced by whether patients' behaviors are said to have caused their organ failure.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ubel, PA; Jepson, C; Baron, J; Mohr, T; McMorrow, S; Asch, DA

Published Date

  • July 2001

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 7 / 7

Start / End Page

  • 600 - 607

PubMed ID

  • 11460227

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1527-6473

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1527-6465

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1053/jlts.2001.25361


  • eng