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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Other People’s Organs, part 1

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

the flesh and blood campaignTo paraphrase a truism, churches can be very generous when it comes to other people’s organs.

There are churches in the United Kingdom (not sure about USA yet) that canvas their members for organ donations! Unbelievably, the program is called the Flesh and Blood (fab) campaign. The online article states:

In the past year, an estimated 30,000 churches of all denominations have received information about the fab campaign, and many have taken part in raising the profile of donation. They are equipped to be long-term advocates of donation and provided with practical tools and resources to help churches donate together and generate conversation and discussion about blood and organ donation. (ref)

Yet, there are MANY reasons to NEVER be a kidney donor — Read some of the articles linked in the Living Donors Are People Too news feed on the bottom right of this webpage.

You would think, though, if churches endorse the procedure, that donating a kidney would not be suspect or objectionable.

On the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) website, we find that:

Research into the positions of various religious groups reveals the underlying attitude that unless the group has taken action to prohibit organ or tissue donation and transplantation, it is usually assumed that such donation is permissible. Donation is encouraged as a charitable act that saves or enhances life; therefore, it requires no action on the part of the religious group. (ref)

UNOS presents the positions of many denominations. The Assembly of God statement includes an evangelical ethic:

A fascinating possibility is to imagine the impact if Christian donors were to stipulate that their donated organs be accompanied by a handwritten letter telling of the donor’s life, testimony, and relationship with Christ.

The Presbyterian Church resolved that all Christians should donate:

Therefore, be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognize the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourage all Christians to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave life that we might have life in its fullness…

The United Methodist Church states that organ transplantation is an act of charity but if the medical people are not offering it for free, how could this be true?

We believe that organ transplantation and organ donation are acts of charity, agape love, and self-sacrifice. We recognize the life-giving benefits of organ and other tissue donation and encourage all people of faith to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their love and ministry to others in need.

On UNOS, Christianity, the general category, shows support for organ donation. The Bible passage quoted presumably conflates gifts of healing with donating one’s organs.

The Lord demonstrated with his own life how, even in sorrow, love enables us to embrace the needs of others. We can choose to donate our organs to save the lives of many people. The decision to donate at the end of life is the beginning of healing for many others. Healing and saving life is a great gift. Jesus sent his 12 disciples out with the imperative to heal disease and illness: “Heal the sick…freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

Catholics are especially tender in these matters. I was told of a pro-life organization where a staff member needed a kidney and 20 people in the office volunteered to donate. That gave plenty of options for the medical people to find a match. UNOS quotes His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York:

When asked to share my thoughts on the importance of organ donation for this publication, it was Evangelium Vitae that immediately came to mind. In thinking about the glorious gift of life God has given each of us, it would seem that one of the greatest ways an individual can honor that gift is by making a conscious decision to be an organ donor—a decision that enables another’s life to continue—and in a very real and tangible way promotes ‘a culture of life.’

Christians are led to believe and pressured to acknowledge that the generous, loving, believing, giving, self-sacrificing child of God will donate organs. And we all know what the opposite of that is!

Probably most church people assume that these statements apply to dead donors, not live ones. Yet soft-hearted people will be drawn to donate a kidney and their act will be influenced by church approval.

Kidney donation news story (ref)

Another story (ref) (Just Google for more)

But not all kidneys come from the willing and compassionate. Stay tuned for part two of Other People's Organs.

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...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

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A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. 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.