In a previous post, I drew attention to some recent work in the cognitive science of moral judgment. Hardly a recognized field a decade ago, today it is one of the most active areas of research in the cognitive and brain sciences, as Steven Pinker's recent essay on the moral instinct amply illustrates. Much of this research centers on extensions of the philosopher Philippa Foot's famous transplant and trolley problems, an approach to moral psychology that my colleagues and I helped to pioneer (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here), and that has since become one of the major research paradigms in the field (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). I recently published two new essays on the topic, one of which is specifically concerned with these problems and is directed mainly toward philosophers and neuroscientists, and the other of which examines the broader role of conceptions of moral psychology in early American law and is directed primarily toward legal historians.
In today's New York Times, Jesse McKinley reports on what appears to be a real-life illustration of the transplant problem -- not the standard version, in which a doctor kills a healthy patient in order to harvest his organs, but a familiar variation of it, in which the targeted patient is not healthy, but rather is already dying -- that has resulted in criminal charges being filed against a Stanford-trained transplant surgeon, Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh. According to the story, Dr. Roozrokh, who has pled not guilty, is alleged to have deliberately hastened a patient's death in order to accelerate the harvesting of his organs for the purpose of performing much-needed transplants. Apparently, the prosecution is the first of its kind in the United States. It remains to be seen whether the case will test the proper scope of the traditional necessity or "choice-of-evils" defense, which some commentators have held or implied might justify or excuse this type of conduct, at least in certain circumstances.
Thanks to Georgetown law student Jill Pasquarella for the pointer.