Season of Giving: Should Ashwyn be allowed to donate his kidney?
Posted Aug 26 2008 11:40am
An excerpt from this week’s WSJ touches on so many of the issues we face surrounding organ donation: informed consent, potential exploitation, donor motivation, as well as the very real problem of organ shortage.
What do you think? Should Ashwyn be allowed to donate his kidney?
Ashwyn Falkingham wanted to donate one of his kidneys but didn't know anyone who needed one. With the help of a Web site, he met a woman in Toronto who was seeking a transplant. The two were a medical match, and he traveled from his home in Sydney, Australia, to Canada for final testing and, he hoped, for the surgery. It's a "simple thing that can help someone," says Mr. Falkingham, now 23 years old.
But it wasn't simple, largely because Mr. Falkingham is a member of a tiny religious group calling itself the Jesus Christians. The group's 30 members, who eschew many of society's conventions, have embraced kidney donation: More than half have given a kidney. They describe the act as a gift of love that implements Jesus's teachings. But critics, particularly parents of members, call the group a cult and charge that members are under undue influence of its charismatic leader.
In the end, the hospital in Toronto had to decide whether Mr. Falkingham's offer was a simple expression of altruism, as he had represented it to be, or an offer from a man no longer capable of independent thought, as his mother and stepfather alleged. 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."