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May 19, 2001: If: Gift of life

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If Collab - May: If someone close to you was in failing health and only by offering one of your vital organs could they be possibly saved, would you do it? Would you risk your life on the chance that another might survive?

This question is too easy. If one of my family members or a close friend were in desperate need of something that I could provide, of course I would give it. I've been donating blood for over ten years now - switching from whole blood to platelets a few years back - and I've been on the marrow donor list for probably half that time. It didn't take a second thought for me to donate blood, and I didn't hesitate when asked about the marrow. Should I be called as a match, I'd agree without hesitation as well. Why should I bemoan a little discomfort - a few lost hours from one day - if it can save someone else's life?

The problem is that this question stops at the easy part. Of course you'd donate for someone you loved. Who would say no?

The real question - the hard question - is 'Can you let it go?'

When I donate blood, I never know who gets it, nor do I want to. The recipients of that blood are nameless and faceless, and I'm perfectly happy to let them remain so. I would be uncomfortable if faced with one of them.

An organ, however, isn't something you just donate at your local clinic every eight months. An organ goes to someone that you will meet - someone that you probably already know. You are giving up an integral part of yourself so that this other person can live. Will you give it completely, without hesitation, renouncing all ownership? Or will you then expect something in return - that the recipient live a 'better' life; that they focus more on their health; that somehow they now have to 'earn' your gift.

The best comparison for this question I'm posing is loaning money to a friend. Most of us have loaned money more than once - a few bucks now and then - and it's no big deal. No big deal, that is, until it's a lot more than just a few bucks, and you know even before you loan it that it will take that friend a while to pay you back.

It's easy to start to watch that person's spending habits once the loan is made. It's easy to start passing judgment on how they save (or not), as long as that debt exists between you. It's very difficult to put it aside and remind yourself - again and again if necessary - that once a gift (or a loan) is given, you have no rights to how it is used.

So it would be with the donation of an organ. If my sister needed one of my kidneys and I gave it to her, I would have no rights to demand how she take care of it. I could cheer her on when she remained in good health, but I would have no rights to complain if she didn't.

It's a very difficult thing to give a gift completely freely - and I can only imagine that the gift of a vital organ would be even more difficult. Could I do it? I'd like to think so, but it's my most fervent wish that I'm never actually put to the test.

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