What Would Jesus Do With His Kidneys?

We have blogged repeatedly — mercilessly, some might say — about the serious shortage of human organs for transplantation, and what might be done about it. The basic problem is that relying on altruism doesn’t produce enough donated organs, but there is widespread repugnance at the idea of paying people for organs.

There’s a fascinating article by Laura Meckler in today’s Wall Street Journal — if you are a newspaper nut, save your copy; it is the final Bancroft family edition — about a tiny religious group called the Jesus Christians who see it as their mission to help people out, as they presume Jesus would have, by donating their kidneys to complete strangers. Meckler reports that more than half the members of the group have already given a kidney. Her lead example is a 23-year-old man named Ashwyn Falkingham who traveled from Australia to Toronto in order to do so.

Some of the parents of Jesus Christians members consider the group a cult, and are therefore opposed to the transplants; and hospitals too must decide if the organs are being offered with the proper consideration. Meckler writes:

Many hospitals aren’t interested in donors who don’t have an established, personal relationship with the recipient. That is partly because of fears that such donors may be secretly — and illegally — paid. Other concerns: Stranger donors may be psychologically disturbed, unrealistically hopeful that donating a kidney will improve their own lives, or likely to back out.

In the end, the Toronto hospital rejected Falkingham’s offer of a kidney, inspired by his parents’ objections that he was giving the kidney as a publicity stunt to aid his religious group. (I guess by repeating the story I am only adding to the publicity fire.) So the woman who was supposed to get Falkingham’s kidney didn’t get it. The easy way around this would have been to lie, for the donor and the recipient to pretend that they were somehow friendly. That’s what the donor and recipient in our column on this subject had to do.

FWIW, Meckler has written an awful lot of good articles on the subject of organ transplantation; I hope she is turning them into a book.


sminky

I'm quite glad to say that here in Scotland the Government is considering a system based on 'presumed consent', i.e. you have to opt out rather than opt in to the organ donor system. It seems to have a fairly high approval rate in the population too, an article I read last week giving around 70% approval.
The sooner it is implemented the better, in my opinion.

frankenduf

but J wouldn't lie

Ben

I agree with The Barefoot Bum, why should someone be allowed to reap the benefits of something they're not paying into? On the otherhand though, how many people who are in need of organ transplants would actually refuse to be a donor? I'd think that being put in the position of needing a transplant would make someone more likely to become a donor.

SM

I read about a society who have all made a pact to donate to each other when they have a need instead of donating to a random person who has not contributed any thing to others on some waiting list. This is a more equitable way to organ donation imo. Give something and get something back.
Paying for something makes it likely that only the rich can afford the procedures. Sort of like there are no rich people on death row, there will be no rich people dying on the wait list if buying organs was legal.

norrin

@SM

Actually, I believe that allowing people to buy organs, would benefit everyone -- not just the rich. Think about it this way: Right now, there are rich and poor people on the list to receive organs, but they can't get a transplant unless someone gives them an organ, or they move to the top of the list to receive one from someone who has died. If people were able to purchase organs, this would create a market for them. Someone who isn't willing to give away an organ for free may do so if he/she could get paid for it. This creates a donor that didn't exist before. If it's only rich people that can afford this, it's OK, because it pulls them off the list and moves others up the list to receive organs from donors who have died.

Isn't it better to make people move up the list faster by creating a bigger donor pool?

David Robinson

Norrin,

"If it's only rich people that can afford this, it's OK, because it pulls them off the list and moves others up the list to receive organs from donors who have died."

While I'm a firm advocate of making organ selling legal, I'd point out that this wouldn't be the case if people had their organs sold instead of donated after they died. (This makes moral sense- shouldn't a person be allowed to help their family if they die, similarly to taking out a life insurance policy with no premium? This would also encourage far more people to sign up for donation).

DC Dan

Wouldn't Jesus have just healed them?

St. Kitt

Organ sales? In lieu of a complete ban on organ transplants, why not?

But I would rather see a system of short-term organ leasing to allow donors to keep regular tabs on recipients' physical and moral fitness. Poor recipient performance would lead to non-renewal and forfeiture, forcing either death or re-leasing at less favorable terms.

But in all seriousness, there are far too many of us humans already here, gobbling up resources like there's no tomorrow. Where's the benefit to our species in artificially prolonging life in this way? Overpopulation never benefits a species.

Organ transplantation (notice the imbedded word "plantation") is primarily a game for rich people and rich countries, aimed at allowing them that's got the will, money and medical system to cheat Mr. Reaper awhile longer. Poor people and poor countries aren't even part of the discussion unless a market for organ sales (cheap, of course) is allowed.

Either ban the practice or open the market up to it entirely. How much would you have to pay to get a man to part with his second kidney?

We approach the days of Kali.

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SM

Norrin,
What if a family of a dying person decides to sell the organs and then use the money to start a charity in the donor's name? After all that charity could help more people than the number who received organs . In this case even though the family may not have needed the money they sold the organs instead of donating it to a few for free. Some families may decide to sell the organs because they really need the money.So finally very few organs will go to the waiting list.
People will be buying organs even if they are coming from Chinese prisons or other questionable sources and one doesn't even have to be super rich.
There must be some egalitarian approach to this issue.

Dave Undis

The generosity of live organ donors is wonderful. It's a shame we need so many live organ donors. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

There is another good way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- if you don't agree to donate your organs when you die, then you go to the back of the waiting list if you ever need an organ to live.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. About 50% of the organs transplanted in the United States go to people who haven't agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

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htb

Dave, I'm glad that you're excited about the company you founded, but I don't buy your logic. You give priority to those who sign up -- fine, everyone who wants to have a priority will sign up. However, that begs the question: Who wants priority access to an organ?

Well, as far as I can make out, this is only a big deal to people who already know that they will need an organ. They may not be in immediate need, but I'd bet that there's a higher than average proportion of people who will eventually need an organ.

I also notice that your frequent promotional posts never mention that LifeSharers has ever resulted in a single successful transplant to one of your 10,000+ members, and no information at all about people signed up through your service who would otherwise have not donated an organ.

So I sincerely doubt that your program increases the number of available organs, which makes me cynically wonder what the real benefit is. Can you sell the mailing list? Is it a feel-good thing? (Nonprofits -- and I've worked for them for years -- are notorious for caring more about "well-intentioned activity" than "tangible results.")

Color me skeptical, Dave. You might ultimately do more good for the kidney shortage by convincing your local high school to require a daily phys ed class.

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Dave McKay

As a member of the Jesus Christians, I have no doubt what Jesus would do if he knew the only way he could save someone else's life was to donate a kidney. Sure, if you can heal someone miraculously, do it. And if you think the world is over-populated, then be the first to volunteer to solve the problem through your own death. But in simply "Golden Rule" terms, if we see someone in need and we have the means to save their life (especially considering that it involves minimal risk to our own life), then by all means do it. I cannot imagine Jesus doing otherwise.

Zachsta

"Other concerns: Stranger donors may be psychologically disturbed" So we insist that organ donation be a purely altruistic act, but if it's TOO altruistic we consider them psychologically disturbed? It's almost as if our current system is designed to limit the number of donated organs as much as possible. Every person who is willing to let thousands die from lack of donors in order to preserve their lofty, virtuous ideas of proper human behaviour should be forced to put their money where their mouth is and donate something themselves. In a nation that is uniquely devout in the developed world in it's widespread profession of the Christian faith, I am continuously amazed at just how often the populace fails to actually act according to the teachings of their religion. If one truly believes in the word of the Bible then one should have already donated a kidney, taken a vow of poverty, and now be busy serving the poor overseas. Instead we are content to drive around the suburbs in our SUVs, watch TV, and force others to die in order to satisfy our half-assed notion of what is morally right.

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Casey Crouch

I am also a member of the Jesus Christians. I have been quite encouraged by the posts so far, as it seems people are genuinely open to discussing difficult ideas.

I think education is a key factor in generating an increase of donors. I get the feeling that most people see it as a very drastic operation, and to some degree it is. However, I think if people were made aware of just how easy the whole procedure can be (in general) they would give more serious consideration to doing it themselves. We don't want people being ignorant of the risks for the sake of increasing the number of donations, but I also think we should not be afraid to actively promote the idea to the general public, with the hope that some of them will act on it.

Over time, with proper representation and constantly increasing technology, the idea could cease to be radical at all, and become more like a common procedure. For example, like having an appendix removed.

I also very much like the idea of people needing to state that they don't want their organs used after death, rather than needing to state that they do want them used.

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Bill

There is something very transformative about Christianity that atheists just really have a hard time understanding. It bothers me that these acts of incredibly amazing compassion (I'm a Christian, but I'm too selfish to donate a kidney, I admit it) are being branded as "cult-like" because atheists really can't comprehend such love.

It's quite sad, really.

Fred

Branding the Jesus Christians "cult-like" has nothing to do with atheism. Plenty of Christians brand other sects with which they disagree as "cult-like". Mormons get that label a lot, and even Catholics. Has nothing to do with atheism.

Casey Crouch

Zachsta,

I liked your comments, but I think it's important to make it clear that kidney donation is not a requirement of Christianity, but that it can be an expression of Christianity. I also feel that atheists ARE able to comprehend such love. IMO, anyone can appreciate the golden rule; that's the beauty of it. It's not dependent on any religious point of view. We will never escape thoughts of how we would prefer for others to treat us, and so the rule guarantees that in any situation we will be reminded to do the same for others. The good Samaritan wasn't a Christian or a Jew, but Jesus still used him as an example of what God is really looking for.

Fred, the problem with the "C" word (cult) is that it's rarely seriously meant to be an accurate definition. It's almost always used to create fear of the target group, or to associate some kind of negative feeling about the group regardless of whether or not the group has actually done anything wrong. Our question regarding the "C" word has always been, what does it have to do with? Very rarely will people try to be specific about what makes a cult a cult, because quite often the criteria will include attributes and qualities of respectable, mainstream institutions as well.

Bill, I was a bit confused by the comment that you are too selfish to donate a kidney. Could you clarify for me? Thanks.

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mgroves

I think as they are naming themselves after Jesus and Christianity, that lying would be out of the question.

I guess altruism is better than actual life saving capitalism.

The Barefoot Bum

One obvious answer is to prohibit anyone from receiving an organ if they do not agree to donate their organs upon death.

Dave Dragon

I am or will be an Organ Donor once I'm done with them.
I believe Organ Donation is a very personal choice that each of us should consider.

Here in the states; ER staffs tend to call all motorcyclist "Organ Donors".

Ride it like you stole it