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Unethical 'Ethicists'

Posted By Don Boudreaux On May 15, 2006 @ 4:54 am In Health | Comments Disabled

Richard Epstein argues [1], in today’s Wall Street Journal, for greater reliance upon markets to supply human kidneys for transplant.  He’s especially effective at exposing unethical "biomedical ethicists" who, as Epstein rightly says, "have convinced themselves that their aesthetic sensibilities and
instinctive revulsion should trump any humane efforts to save lives."

Some of the best work [2] on this important issue is done by my GMU colleague, law professor Lloyd Cohen [3].  Other good research is by William Barnett, Michael Saliba, and Deborah Walker here [4], and by David Kaserman and my former professor Andy Barnett [5].  My own modest contribution, co-authored with Adam Pritchard, is here [6].

It bears repeating: A person who endorses a policy of blocking voluntary exchanges that save lives just so that person doesn’t have to suffer qualms knowing that such exchanges take place is, shall we say, morally questionable.  In fact, just knowing that such people and their narrowly self-centered preferences exist gives me the willies, qualms-cubed.  Perhaps my personal qualms about the very existence of such people — my qualms about the existence of such ugly, greedy, and lethal preferences and their manifestations (i.e., unnecessary deaths) — is reason enough for me to call upon government to stifle expressions of their thoughts.

Of course, I don’t believe that government should stifle the thoughts and expressions of anyone.  But if the need to protect Sam’s aesthetic sensibilities is used to justify preventing Bill and Mary from engaging in voluntary exchange that saves Bill’s life, on what principle would Sam stand to demand that my own qualms about his ugly and arrogant behavior not be used to justify my petitiioning government to shut him up — to put an end to his unseemliness?

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[1] Richard Epstein argues: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114765339774152572.html?mod=opinion_main_commentaries

[2] Some of the best work: http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv28n3/v28n3-1.pdf

[3] Lloyd Cohen: http://mason.gmu.edu/~lcohen2/

[4] here: http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_05_3_barnett.pdf

[5] David Kaserman and my former professor Andy Barnett: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00092C8NG/qid=1147683006/sr=1-6/ref=sr_1_6/002-3657748-4734462?s=books&v=glance&n=551440

[6] here: http://www.mackinac.org/archives/1999/v1999-34.pdf

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