When I recently laid out a communitarian approach to increase organ donations by drawing on new moral appeals, I was subject to a barrage of ad hominem attacks.
Under most conditions I would shrug my shoulders and move on. I have been in public life for many years and have seen people savaged quite regularly. I guess it is a price you pay for not sticking to footnoting in the stacks. However in this case this mode of communication concerns two matters that one should not allow to go by the wayside:
First of all, the barrage of personal attacks distracts attention from the issue that should be studied. Namely how to increase organ donations best? I am sorry to see that Mr. Drezner finds this issue a source of “amusement.” Thousands of people die each year needlessly and many more suffered a great deal, because not enough organs are donated, and because the market has been allowed to intrude into the ways they are allocated. (For instance there is a shortage of donated skin for burn victims because skin is sold to plastic surgeons who pay a high fee to use it to make the hyper rich look younger). One person’s donations can improve the life of twenty others, if on death organs are made available. Also I can not give much higher kudos than the one I reserve for the like Virginia Postrel who donated an organ (in her case, one of her kidneys), while still among us.
I find it childish to engage in the kind of
debate that is based on I-said, you-said, I-said, and so on. However in the
case at hand, the distortions used to reframe the arguments in favor of moral
suasion are particularly revealing. I wrote that when people are in doctors’
offices they should be given a flyer that would tell them how much the
community would appreciate their gift of life and ask them to sign a release
form. I pointed out that there is no reason for even libertarians to oppose
such appeals because they leave the decision to the agent. In other words:
This [market based] approach has been criticized on the grounds that any such moves will lead toward an organ market and commodify one more social relation. For many people, an organ market offends their religious and personal beliefs in the sanctity of the body. Many claim that financial incentives for organ donation would change an act of altruism into an act of commerce. Others have expressed concern that a commodification approach could backfire and turn people away from organ donation. Given the various concerns about “market-based” approaches to organ donation, we, as a society, should first try an approach that does not involve commodification of organs and hence does not risk the public costs that commodification entails. I concede that if noncommercial approaches continue to fail, some form of financial incentives might be justified in order to save lives and reap the other benefits of increased organ supplies. However, before such steps are taken – the cultural and moral effects which will be very difficult to reverse – I urge that a communitarian approach be accorded a full test.
Here is what Mr. Drezner made out of my point:
Drezner: See where I just want to see Amitai Etzioni in every doctor’s office shaking people by the lapels. But I want that to see if that actually works. As purely for my own amusement value.
Postrel: You know, it’s hard to get people to go to doctor now, that would only discourage them further.
Drezner: And that’s how we can do it. You can have television ads that say you have to go to the doctor’s office or Amitai Etzioni will show up at your front door and urge you to donate your organs.
Second, the question arises why this sound and fury? Why not engage in a civil dialogue on an issue reasonable people can differ, the way Professor Healy did for instance has dealt with the questions at hand?
Sadly I fear that we here face the business model of blogging. Some bloggers sell stuff, anything from diapers to baseball cards to soft porn (in Drezner’s case). In order to make money they have to bring buyers to their sites. And those bloggers that succeed in kicking up a fuss, seem to draw a much larger crowd than the reasoned ones, that is make much more money. Is there some other way to finance blogging? Do we need a NPR and PBS for blogging, to ensure civil dialogue?