Life Sentence or Gift of Life? Organ Donation and Incarcerated Individuals

Written by FASPE Medical Fellows: Alexa Kanbergs and Joseph Scarpa, Jr.

For the last decade, the number of people who require an organ transplant grossly outpaces the number of organ donations. Many proposals have been offered as a potential solution to this problem, including replacing the current opt-in system with a standardized opt-out program. Other proposals include expanding the living donor pool to previously restricted populations, like people currently incarcerated. Prisoners, particularly those facing the death penalty, may consider donating an organ in exchange for a reduced sentences. Is this coercion? Does it create perverse incentives for incarcerated individuals? Is this substantively different than reducing a sentence for typical reasons, like “good behavior”? Does the State have a duty to reduce a person’s sentence because he or she has donated an organ? Some prisoners deeply committed to reconciliation, responsibility, and transformation may find fulfillment in donating an organ, even deferring a reduced sentence to remove any hint of coercion. Others, eager to reduce their sentences, might be tempted by a perverse incentive structure. Should evaluating potential living donors who are incarcerated require a greater standard of rigor to determine the “proper” motivations for donating? Or should the potential for coercion prevent incarcerated individuals from donating altogether?

Read the original articles from the Organ Procurement & Transplant Network and an original manuscript on the topic from The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

Houses of Worship Must Remind the World of Things We Vowed Not to Forget

Written by FASPE Seminary Fellows: Cornelia DaltonDeacon Andrew J. De Silva and Alissa Oleson

This past February marked the one-year anniversary of the Parkland school shootings. Noting how quickly the 24-hour news cycle changes yesterday’s priorities, one church chose art to remember the names of those killed in the Parkland massacre. “We wanted to make sure that we found a way to use our public space to memorialize and remember…” remarked Rev. Nathan Detering, senior minister at Unitarian Universalist Church in Sherborn, MA. Placing empty school desks outside the church with the first names of those tragically killed written on the backs, the church created a poignant memorial.

The primary responsibility of a house of worship in the face of tragedy is prayer for victims; for perpetrators; and for the culture that allowed this. A house of worship ought to be a voice of remembrance calling the faith community to spiritually unite in asking God for continued help in a given situation.

A house of worship also has the sacred responsibility to speak out against injustice. It is for this reason that Unitarian Universalist Church used their memorial as an opportunity to gather and reflect on the shooting. In the face of tragedy, we too can be inspired by the Church in Sherborn to encourage the difficult conversations about why it happened and what we as faith filled people are being called to do about it.

In stark contrast to a culture led by an ever-changing news cycle, houses of worship draw on timeless texts and ancient beliefs as their source for this responsibility. Thus, it seems that they hold a privileged place in our increasingly frenetic culture of reminding us of things that we promised not to forget and our responsibility as people of faith to be instruments of change in our world around us.

Read the original article in The Boston Globe.

Outsourcing Ethical Limits

Written by FASPE Law Fellows: Shannon Joyce Prince and Carson Thomas

Should it be illegal for an American scientist to participate in foreign research that would be unlawful if conducted in the U.S.?  Recent news about the genome editing of two babies in China has prompted important ethical discussions in the medical and scientific community.  It has also brought attention to the practice of “ethics dumping” that raises significant legal and regulatory questions. Ethics dumping can be defined as “the carrying out by researchers from one country (usually rich, and with strict regulations) in another (usually less well off, and with laxer laws) of an experiment that would not be permitted at home.”  As academic and industrial research continues to globalize, there is a danger of a regulatory race to the bottom. How should regulators balance concerns about ethics dumping against charges of ethical imperialism, whereby powerful countries impose their cultural norms onto less powerful nations?

Though one would hope that the rule of law would universally enshrine respect for human dignity, as members of the FASPE community, we know that it can and will fail to do so at time.  What, then, is the responsibility of professionals to create ethical norms for their fields that constrain their behavior regardless of policy?

Read the original article in The Economist.

Socially Responsible Investing: Passive Activism or Active Change?

Written by FASPE Business Fellows Brian Hathaway and Courtney Kaplan

In May 2019, a new investment fund focused on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) issues raised $851M in its launch. BlackRock’s iShares ESG fund signals a growing trend of investor interest in so-called “responsible” investing, as ESG factors can be used to measure the sustainability and ethical impact of a given business.

In past decades, ESG was often seen as a “nice-to-have” by investors, but it was understood that prioritizing sustainability would likely yield lower returns. Today, investors are less willing to accept that trade-off, and are starting to demand that companies deliver on both promises. Today, as “people [have begun] to realize that these environmental, social, and governance issues mattered to financial performance, both the corporate community and the investment community started to see things differently.” In 2019, over 50 percent of assets invested in Europe are invested in sustainable investing; even in the US, that number now tops 25%.

While we applaud the ESG movement, we want to be cautious that it is discerning enough to truly reward companies that are behaving responsibly and influence companies to change. Without clearly defined metrics or true oversight, companies may take advantage of this trend without cleaning up their operations or making real commitments to change. Furthermore, investors may feel that by buying an ESG fund is a way to “check the box” on sustainability without having to make any difficult sacrifices. Is that a reasonable expectation? What are the risks associated with funds that promise that investors can have it all?

Read the original article in The Wall Street Journal.