I was recently contacted via email by Esther Han, a Sydney, Australia-based journalist for a publication called "Precinct" who is writing a story about internet kidney donations. She will be using my kidney donation story as part of her article.
Here are some of the questions she posed to me and my answers. I have no idea how much of it she'll use in her piece.
1. What would you like to say to the general public about living organ donors who donate over websites (I believe some people find the Internet a 'dangerous' place)?
Before the advent of websites such as MatchingDonors.com, people interested in donating an organ only had two choices:
1. Find someone in need yourself
2. Let the hospital choose someone for you
The internet empowers the donor to make his/her own choice as to whom benefits from the gift of an organ donation. I also feel that as more people take advantage of the internet as a means to match donors and recipients, you will see less donors “chickening out” at the last minute. Being able to put a face and name with your intended recipient creates empathy and accountability – two major deterrents to backing out of this life-saving act moments before surgery.
2. What sort of person does it take to do what you have done, donate an organ to a complete stranger?
Throughout this process, I’ve made contact with several other living donors who have chosen to donate kidneys to people with whom they had no prior relationship. None of them, including myself, seemed to be remarkable or heroic characters ripped from the pages of “Lives of the Saints.”
Instead, I think all living donors are persons who base their lives on facts and reason coupled with a keen sense of cost-benefit relationships. In short, we are all members of the reality-based community.
The greater public is saddled with the incorrect impression that donating a kidney is a very risky procedure with long-term health risks to the donor. However, ten minutes of research on the internet or a discussion with a any medical professional in the field of transplant will tell you this is not true. The reality is that the donor surgery is performed laparoscopically with small incisions for a quick recovery and minimal pain. And statistically, living donors with one remaining kidney are no more likely to have kidney problems than persons with both kidneys in tact.
Living donors of all stripes have taken the time to learn the facts about the procedure and its aftermath. As such, living donors are willing to accept this minor risk of surgery (“the cost”) with the tremendous upside of saving another’s life (“the benefit”). Those of us who chose to donate to a stranger are no more benevolent than those who choose to donate to a loved one. We just didn’t know anyone who needed a kidney when we made the decision to donate.
3. How much do you encourage it?
I would highly encourage everyone to learn the facts about living kidney donations. The risks are low, and the benefits are great. There is a website called www.livingdonorsonline.com that contains the testimonials of folks like me who have gone through the procedure as well as detailed information about what the donation process entails.
4. What would you like to say to those who feel that their only hope is through websites like matchingdonors, but have been waiting for over a year?
You want to be truthful about your medical situation, but also provide enough personal information about yourself, so readers can empathise and identify with you. It may seem shallow, but posting a nice photo of yourself is a must – people find it easier to relate to people they can see.
For me, I was less concerned about the direness of my recipient’s medical condition than I was about what I felt she could contribute to the world if she were in good health. If you have dependents or a “reason to live,” this should be emphasised more than the painstaking detail of your medical condition. I take it for granted that you are not seeking a kidney transplant for recreational purposes. Now, tell me about yourself.
5. There have been some ethical concerns raised about sites like matchingdonors including, emotional pull, potential recipients who might exaggerate or misrepresent themselves in their profile or contributing to an increasingly unfair system, what is your response to this?
I see nothing wrong with letting my emotions, preferences, and biases shape my decision regarding who gets my kidney. No one is troubled if I choose to give my other assets (i.e. cash) to people and causes I support. Why do people short-circuit when I decide to give my kidney to a person I support?
The idea that there’s this grave danger that internet fiends will con donors into giving up their kidneys to unsuitable recipients is pure nonsense. First of all, the recipients post because they need a kidney. No one is going to accept a kidney transplant unless they have a dire medical condition. Furthermore, the doctors will not perform the procedure on anyone unless there is a medical need.
I suppose it is possible that a potential recipient might lie about their dependents, their religion, or the emotional aspects of their lives to lure in sympathetic donors. To that I say: let the donor beware. Unlike non-directed donors who have no opportunity to do any due diligence regarding their recipients, internet donors are holding all the cards. The donor can request a sit-down with the recipient and his/her family, ask to see medical records, and do everything short of accepting cash (in America) before they agree to move forward with the procedure.
We need to dispel the myth that the hospital committees who choose which recipient on the list is “next up” are using a cold and calculating formula to make this decision. My sources tell me that it’s more like jurors deliberating a courtroom case and allowing their own feelings and biases – coupled with the facts – to decide who gets the next kidney. If you are comfortable letting this committee impose their values in making the decision about who gets your kidney, I have no problem with that. But I fail to see any moral dilemma behind imposing my own values in deciding whose life I want to save.
Finally, if anyone is placing themselves at risk of exploitation in using the internet as a conduit for organ transplant, it is the recipient. After posting her appeal on matchingdonors.com, my recipient, Brenda, was barraged with emails from con-men, immigration opportunists, and charlatans seeking to steal money or benefits from her in exchange for the promise of a kidney. She had to sift through all of this “kidney spam” before she could even find my email offering to discuss the matter further.