Weekend reading: organ donation, designer babies



Publish date

December 17, 2007

Topic(s): Uncategorized

NYT Mag: Desperately Seeking a Kidney
Sally Satel recounts her story of looking for a kidney donor:

Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish physician and philosopher, believed that anonymous giving was nobler than charity performed face to face because it protected the beneficiary from shame or a sense of indebtedness. He was onto something. I ruminated constantly about what it would mean to be related to someone by organ. Would my future donor assume a proprietary interest in how I lived my life, since she had made it possible? Would she make sure I was taking proper care of our kidney or lord her sacrifice over me? Or would I hold it over my own head, constantly questioning whether I might have said or done anything that could offend or disappoint my donor, anything that might be taken as ingratitude? How could a relationship breathe under such stifling conditions? It was exhausting to think about; I wanted no part of a debtor-creditor relationship. I didnt want a gift, I wanted a kidney.

Satel does finally get a new kidney and the act of altruism prompts her to call for some kind of compensation for donors. Not money, she says, but something.

WSJ: For Religious Group, True Charity Begins on Operating Table
Laura Meckler reports on the Jesus Christians, a group which has embraced kidney donation as a religious calling:

More than 460 people have given kidneys anonymously in the U.S. over the past decade, and many others have donated to strangers they met online, amid a huge shortage of available kidneys. Nearly 75,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for kidney transplants.

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.

The University of Minnesota has handled 42 transplants involving anonymous donors, including two Jesus Christians. Catherine Garvey, a transplant coordinator there, says neither case caused concerns. “There’s definitely a religious reasoning to it,” she says, “but people often quote a spiritual or religious reason.”

The article includes the story a young Australian man who had tried to donate a kidney to a Canadian woman. The hospital in Canada canceled the transplant after the man’s mother wrote a letter calling his ability to make independent choices into question. Meckler reports that the potential donor and hopeful recipient are now looking for an American hospital to do the transplant.

Philly Inquirer: Two polar, persuasive stands on reproductive genetics
Carlin Romano reviews Ronald Green‘s “Babies By Design” and Michael Sandel‘s “The Case Against Perfection”:

We have, Green concludes, always tried to make ourselves healthier, better and better looking (largely succeeding over the centuries), and nothing’s going to stop us from doing so in the imminent age of the “$1,000 genome.” When genetic profiles come down far enough in price, everyone and his or her doctor will have to confront these choices. “The time to start talking about this challenge,” Green warns, “is now.”

By contrast, in The Case Against Perfection, Sandel argues against Western science’s bent since Francis Bacon to control nature whenever it can. Choosing our children’s qualities, he contends, may not only impair their autonomy and skew our desired egalitarian social landscape, but will – this is Sandel’s most distinctive point – deny us our sense of life as a “gift,” an “endowment” that should exceed our control.

-Greg Dahlmann

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