Asking the right questions

Are your kidneys available to me? - Fifth in a series

Are your kidneys available to me – or to the pastor or friend in their 60s – or to a child on dialysis, like the little boy in the picture?

If you have signed your driver’s license then you can say, “Yes.” But would you, if you are a healthy adult, donate a kidney to help a fellow human live longer?

And what if you were asked to give an opinion, to help another person make a decision? It’s best to know in advance what you would answer.

Up to this post, we have reviewed position statements by churches on organ donation, noting or providing links to web pages that show:

  • All religions and Christian churches generally are in favor of organ donation
  • Christian church statements do not differentiate between the living and dead donor
  • Many churches see organ donation as a matter of individual conscience
  • There are altruistic living donors of kidneys and many kidney sellers, mostly found among the poor and ignorant in the world.

We have also noted that church position statements should distinguish between living and presumably dead donors. I realize that using the word “presumably” adds another layer to work through, but Christians need to understand that the current definition of death is debatable, and most Bible-believing Christians would not accept it. We believe that death occurs when people breathe their last. However, once that occurs, organs cannot be used for transplantation. This is a topic for a different blog series.

Our country may be moving toward a program of payment for organs from live donors, requiring a change in current law.

Would you expect your church to take a stand for or against this? Would you sell or buy a kidney? This is a new dilemma from whether you would donate one.

How would you advise your church, if you were on a committee to write a position statement?

Here are some topics to look at, to get the facts and insights needed for a personal viewpoint:

  • How do kidneys from around the world find their way to the operating tables of the USA? Would this practice end if we have a paid donor program here? Would the Donor Bill of Rights help?
  • How would changing our laws to permit payment for human organs affect our society?
  • Would payment for organs be supported or opposed in Christian doctrine?
  • What types of questions in the Christian life are bonafide matters for individual conscience?

These questions are different from the ones asked by the health authorities, who want to know:

  • How many kidney donors are needed to supply the current demand and what is the demand curve?
  • What are current and projected costs for dialysis, and who pays?
  • How can we get more donors?

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Other People’s Organs, part 2

Are your kidneys available to me? - Fourth in a series

If you’re willing to ask a living person, a total stranger, to rescue you from the queue of those patiently waiting for a deceased donor organ, or from the onus of asking a relative or close friend to rescue you from dialysis, be aware that you entering a moral, social, ethical, and political grey zone. You’re putting the seller and yourself at risk.

Indian RefugeeThis statement goes against the current grain of cultural wisdom. Are these the words of a religious fanatic? No, anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes is currently Chancellor's Professor (Emerita) of the Graduate School of the University of California at Berkeley, and an advisor for the WHO, the UN Anti-Trafficking Office, and TTS, the Transplant Society, on the hidden injuries of transplant trafficking.

I imagine that her students revere her but most others wish she would go away.

Dr. Scheper-Hughes discovered the kidney trade in the course of her research and rewrote the purpose of her academic discipline as she brought to light illegal trafficking from South America to Asia and Eastern Europe. Here’s something else she wrote:

Despite what you may have heard from some surgeons or from transplant brokers, the kidney is not a ‘spare’ organ. If you were able, as I have been, to talk to kidney sellers the world over, you would find that even years after the operation, the sellers are still suffering from its effects on their bodies, minds, social status, intimate relations, and working lives.

Medical journals do not report on the invisible and long-term consequences of kidney selling, which include: decreased physical and mental well-being, chronic pain, depression and suicide, self-hatred, distorted body image (‘half-man’ syndrome), anger, social rejection, isolation, physical abuse, battering, and forced exile from their native communities.

There are new syndromes that don’t appear in medical textbooks: phantom kidneys, kidney regret, kidney-impotence, bodily evacuation (the body without organs), chronic pain at the site of the surgical scar, empty burning space, and the attribution of all subsequent troubles to the ‘missing kidney’.

Economically, kidney sellers are worse off a year after selling their kidney. Because most kidney sellers are poorly educated and are unskilled labourers who rely on the strength of their bodies, many are excluded from work that requires them to lift heavy objects, to leap and jump, to be fearless and unconcerned about the effects of ordinarily rigorous work on their bodies. They fear death. In Bangladesh and Pakistan, kidney sellers refer to their kidney removal as ‘the day I died’, a reference to their economic, psychological, spiritual, and social death. Many seem to have lost their already tenuous existential niche in the world. (ref)

Another chronicler of man’s inhumanity to man, journalist Scott Carney, has researched extensively and shared his findings in a book exposing the billion-dollar industry of brokering human organs, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers. See here for more on the “Red” market.

Mr. Carney writes:

In the real world, kidneys don’t have a fixed price. Instead, the market for human body parts is a lot like the one for used cars: They’re only worth what someone is willing to sell them for. In the age of cheap international travel, where state-of-the-art hospitals abut the most impoverished slums on Earth, hundreds of thousands of people are available and willing to sell their flesh for pennies on the dollar. Some of these areas are so well-known among organ traffickers and brokers that they’ve earned the name “kidneyvilles” for their plentiful supply of willing “donors.” (ref)

Today, we have new facts of life:

When we buy a body part, we take on the liabilities for where it came from both ethically and in terms of the previous owner's biological and genetic history. It's a transaction that never really ends. - excerpt from The Red Market

The "donor" of a kidney may not have been a donor at all.

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Angel fish
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1


A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.