Cheney Got a New Heart — Ethicists Need One

I am an average American male, human being.  I’m not a genius not gifted just a man of normal intelligence who likes to think and read and research and write about about what I’ve found.  Some things really stump me, though.   I’m terrible at math, I love physics but don’t have a clue about how any of it works, and even after spending a good many years as a professional broadcaster I still don’t completely understand how the sound and picture got from me to your radio or TV.  What mystifies me most, though, is the thought process of people who call themselves ethicists.  The word is even hard to say, you kind of feel as though you have developed a lisp.

Just so we are all on the same page here, it is important to define our terms.  First the definition of ethics


   [eth-iks] Show IPA

plural noun

1. ( used with a singular or plural verb ) a system of moral principles: the ethics of a culture.

2. (the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.

3. moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence.

4.( usually used with a singular verb ) that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

Art Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, the man who questioned whether the Vice President was too old to get a transplant, is a “Bioethicist.” The same Dictionary gives this definition.


   [bahy-oh-eth-iks] Show IPA

noun ( used with a singular verb )

a field of study concerned with the ethics  and philosophical implications of certain biological and medical procedures, technologies, and treatments, as organ transplants, genetic engineering, and care of the terminally ill.

Having established who and what we are talking about let us return to the continuing saga of the Cheney heart transplant.  The ethicists are rallying behind their colleague Art Caplan.  One said, “The ethical issues are not that he (VP Cheney) got a transplant, but who didn’t?”

What an absurd argument!  That could be said about anyone who got a transplant.  if a 40 year old got a new liver, do we ask, “Who didn’t get the liver he just received?” I may not know much about ethics but I do have a clue about logic and somehow logic has been lost in the arguments forwarded by these learned people.  I wonder how well any of them would do on “Are you smarter than a 5th grader.”  Probably not real well being as that takes knowledge not philosophizing.

At the risk of sounding like a reactionary I have to say that some of these ethicists are the ones who got us in this donation shortage in the first place.  For years the ethicists have been telling us that the only ethical way to obtain organs is through the “Altruistic” system which is what we have now — people voluntarily becoming donors.   This method has been in effect since 1984.  The problem is that it doesn’t provide anywhere near enough donors to satisfy the need, therefore from 6000 to 7000 people die each year while waiting for organs.

The ethicists have met many times to consider alternatives to altruistic donation and each time after a great deal of philosophizing, consternation and speculation have found that the alternatives are, you’ve got it, “unethical.”

Now I’m no rocket scientist and don’t have a PHD or a fancy title like “Bioethicist” but I do have common sense.  It seems to me that if you are really concerned about ethics you would have to expand your thinking to a bigger picture.  These ethicists appear to have quit thinking about the problem when they reached their myopic conclusion.  They conveniently ignore the fact that people are still dying and will continue to die because they refuse to allow change.  Doesn’t that deserve some of their “ethical” brainpower, philosophizing and speculation, too?   It is amazing to me how strangely silent these “holier than thou” ethicists are about not questioning the ethics of allowing people to die.

There may be an explanation for their actions though and that explanation was found way back in 1931,long before transplants were considered possible.  You see, even then the medical community was having problems with ethicists who considered themselves to be “Experts.”

Harold J. Laski writing in the London’s Fabian Society, manuscript in February of 1931, presented a challenge to the expertise of an “expert” in decision-making with the following:
“But it is one thing to urge the need for expert consultation at every stage in making policy; it is another thing, and a very different thing, to insist that the expert’s judgment must be final. For special knowledge and the highly trained mind produce their own limitations which, in the realm of statesmanship, are of decisive importance.

Expertise, it may be argued, sacrifices the insight of common sense to intensity of experience. It breeds an inability to accept new views from the very depth of its preoccupation with its own conclusions. It too often fails to see round its subject. It sees its results out of perspective by making them the centre of relevance to which all other results must be related. Too often, also, it lacks humility; and these breeds in its possessors a failure in proportion which makes them fail to see the obvious which is before their very noses.

It has, also, a certain caste-spirit about it, so that experts tend to neglect all evidence which does not come from those who belong to their own ranks. Above all, perhaps, and this most urgently where human problems are concerned, the expert fails to see that every judgment he makes, not purely factual to nature, brings with it a scheme of values which has no special validity about it. He tends to confuse the importance of his facts with the importance of what he proposes to do about them.”

I have no idea who Mr. or Dr. Laski was but his profound insight into the psyche of ethicists is a perfect reflection of my thoughts only articulated far more effectively.

I suppose there’s a role for ethicists to play in our society but at this point in my life (73 years worth) I don’t need a so-called ethicist to explain the difference between right and wrong to me.  I’ve not studied the great philosophers to the extent they have but living as long as I have and having had a heart transplant has pretty much instilled in me a set of values that I think are pretty solid.  That’s probably true about most people. We don’t need much help in making moral decisions.  Do we want information?  Sure.  Will we accept advice?  Sometimes.  Do we need to have ethicists make decisions for us?  Never!  Unfortunately they do and It has cost thousands of lives.

Bob Aronson, a 2007 heart transplant recipient is the founder of Facebook’s 1700 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the writer of 110 blogs on donation/transplantation issues on Bob’s Newheart on WordPress. 

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

 Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have a PowerPoint slide show for your use free and for use without permission.  Just go to and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions.  This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound.

 Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

About Bob Aronson

Bob Aronson is a former journalist, a Minnesota Governor's Press Secretary and talk show host. For nearly a quarter of a century, he led the Aronson Partnership, a Minnesota-based communications consultancy that prepared corporate and government executives for crisis situations, regulatory testimony, media interviews and Presentations. Among his clients were all three U.S. Mayo Clinic locations, 3M, general Mills, CH2M Hill, the U.S. Department of Energy and scores more. In 2007 bob had a heart transplant after suffering from idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy for 12 years. Shortly after he got his new heart he founded the now 4,300 member Facebook support group, Organ Transplant Initiative. At the same time, he established the Bob's Newheart blog where he has posted nearly 300 columns on organ donation, transplantation and other health related issues. The Viewpoint blog was started in late 2016 and bears the name of the Radio Talk show Bob did from 1966 until 1974, when he resigned to become Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich first Press secretary. Bob and his artist wife Robin, live in Jacksonville, Florida with their two dogs, Reilly and Ziggy. Bob is also a woodworker and makes all of the furnishings for Robin's art festival booth. He also makes one of a kind jewelry or "memories" boxes that he donates to select transplant patients, caregivers, donor families and others who have somehow contributed to making life easier for the ill, the elderly and the less fortunate. Bob is in the final stages of editing two full-length novels that will be available on Kindle when ready for release sometime in early 2017. One is a sci fi novel about an amazing discovery near Roswell, New Mexico and you will be surprised to find it has nothing to do with the Roswell story everyone knows. It features a woman scientist who investigates impact craters for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Dr. Rita Sylvester and her female student intern. The other book is a political thriller that introduces a new hero to the genre, Fargo Dennison.

Posted on March 28, 2012, in Ethics and Ethicists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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