Moral Evaluations of Organ Transplantation Influence Judgments of Death and Causation

Michael Nair-Collins*, Mary A. Gerend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Two experiments investigated whether moral evaluations of organ transplantation influence judgments of death and causation. Participants’ beliefs about whether an unconscious organ donor was dead and whether organ removal caused death in a hypothetical vignette varied depending on the moral valence of the vignette. Those who were randomly assigned to the good condition (vs. bad) were more likely to believe that the donor was dead prior to organ removal and that organ removal did not cause death. Furthermore, attitudes toward euthanasia and organ donation independently predicted judgments of death and causation, regardless of experimental condition. The results are discussed in light of the framework of motivated reasoning, in which motivation influences the selection of cognitive processes and representations applied to a given domain, as well as Knobe’s person-as-moralist model, in which many basic concepts are appropriately imbued with moral features. On either explanatory framework, these data cast doubt on the psychological legitimacy of the mainstream justification for vital organ procurement from heart-beating donors, which holds that neurological criteria for death are scientifically justified, independently of concerns about organ transplantation. These data suggest that, rather than concluding that organ removal is permissible because the donor is dead, people may believe that the donor is dead because they believe organ removal to be permissible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-297
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Brain death
  • Death
  • Moral psychology
  • Organ donation
  • Organ transplantation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Health Policy
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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