Judgments of Moral Responsibility in Tissue Donation Cases (w. James Beebe)
(forthcoming in Bioethics)

If a person requires an organ or tissue donation in order to survive, many philosophers argue that whatever moral responsibility a biological relative may have to donate to the person in need will be grounded at least partially, if not entirely, in biological relations the potential donor bears to the recipient. Such views tend to ignore the role played by the perceived burden of the donation type, and the role played by a potential donor’s unique ability to help the person in need, in underwriting such judgments. If, for example, a sperm donor is judged to have a significant moral responsibility to donate tissue to a child conceived with his sperm, we think such judgments will largely be grounded in the presumed unique ability of the sperm donor to help the child due to the compatibility of his tissues with those of the recipient, as long as the donation is not too burdensome. In this paper, we report the results of two studies designed to investigate the comparative roles that biological relatedness, unique ability, and burden play in generating judgments of moral responsibility in tissue donation cases. We found that biologically related individuals are deemed to have a significant moral responsibility to donate tissue only when they are one of a small number of people who have the capacity to help, while increasing the burden of donating led to decreased attribution of moral responsibility. We tie these results to contemporary disputes concerning tissue donation.  

The Ties that Undermine
(Published in Bioethics, 2016)

Do biological relations ground responsibilities between biological fathers and their offspring? Few think biological relations ground either necessary or sufficient conditions for responsibility. Nevertheless, many think biological relations ground responsibility at least partially. Various scenarios, such as cases concerning the responsibilities of sperm donors, have been used to argue in favor of biological relations as partially grounding responsibilities.

In this article, I seek to undermine the temptation to explain sperm donor scenarios via biological relations by appealing to an overlooked feature of such scenarios. More specifically, I argue that sperm donor scenarios may be better explained by considering the unique abilities of agents involved. Appealing to unique ability does not eliminate the possibility of biological relations providing some explanation for perceived responsibilities on the part of biological fathers. However, since it is unclear exactly why biological relations are supposed to ground responsibility in the first place, and rather clear why unique ability grounds responsibility in those scenarios where it is exhibited, the burden of proof seems shifted to those advocating biological relations as grounds of responsibility to provide an explanation. Since this seems unlikely, I conclude it is best to avoid appealing to biological relations as providing grounds for responsibility.

A fellow UB graduate student peer Jake Monaghan also has something to say about this topic. You can find out more here. Another peer of mine Brendan Cline, has a bit to add about morality in general, which can be found here.