The Taser's Edge


Organ Trafficking, Organ Transplanting, and My Family

In this week’s issue of Newsweek (January 19, 2008), there is an article on international organ trafficking–“Not Just Urban Legend” by Jeneen Interlandi.  It’s incredibly interesting and you ought to read it.

The article begins with a picture of a Brazilian man with a scar on his back, marking where his kidney was removed, a choice he made in exchange for $10,000, the price, for him, of a car.  But apparently, hence the title reference to the urban legends about people awaking in and ice bath to find they are lacking an organ, it’s not always voluntarily.  And although the article doesn’t directly speak to this, it seems hardly voluntary to offer someone living in the slums of India or Brazil or wherever else an amount of money which is a lot to them but which costs a fraction of the money that the organ broker will make in the transaction.

While at Duke, I attended several Palliative Care conferences, which Duke Palliative Care team holds each week.  One of the conferences was specifically about the ethical considerations of organ donation and legislation, and while Newsweek makes it clear that the wealthy can circumvent the difficult-to-enforce rules, Duke Palliative Care made it clear that the wealthy also know how to work within those rules better.  They have the finances and often the education needed to better understand and work the system.  For instance, the qualifications for getting on a transplant list are complicated, and many people don’t realize that they can get on a list quite a while before their organs actually fail.  As is often the case, the haves will get more and as for the have-nots….

Organ transplants are a particularly personal issue to me, considering that my mom’s dad’s (Papaw’s) family has been ravaged by polycystic kidney disease.  For info on PKD, check out this and this.  Tragically, the disease has also shown up in my mom’s and her cousins’ generation.  When I did my chaplaincy internship at Duke Hospital, it was always most chilling to me to look at a patient’s chart before entering the room and to see any kind of kidney disease.  According to the article, kidneys are Americans’ most-needed transplant, and “in the United States, the average wait time for a kidney is expected to increase to 10 years by 2010.  Most dialysis patients die in half that time, and the desperate don’t always play by the rules.”  My family members will be on that list, and while we definitely are not among the haves in terms of money, hopefully our experience, some education, and determination can pick up some of the slack.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.

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