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Organ Donation

The Math Of Medical Ethics 101

 By Dr. Gifford Jones  Thursday, October 7, 2010

“What an incredible story”, I thought as I read the article. But it wasn’t published in a prestigious medical journal. Rather, it was an article in the New Yorker Magazine written by Ian Parker about about Zell Kravinsky. Zell had given away almost his entire 45 million dollar real estate fortune to charity. Then he donated a kidney to save a young stranger’s life. He had even considered donating his other kidney and subjecting himself to kidney dialysis to save another young life. This is Sacrifice with a capital S! Yet thousands of his fellow citizens refuse to donate organs even after their death to those who desperately need them.

Why did Kravinsky do it? He says people simply don’t understand math. He explains that he had one chance in four thousand of dying from the transplant operation. But his recipient faced certain death without it. So why should he put the value of his life at 4,000 times his?

This holiday season it’s time for us all to refresh our basic math. Currently, thousands of patients in this country are waiting for donated kidneys, others for heart and liver transplants. Thousands will die while waiting, during which time tens of thousands of healthy organs will be buried under the ground.

This is religious hypocrisy at its worst. A glaring example of extreme selfishness, particularly when the majority of religions support organ donation.

Pope John Paul II said, “With the advent of organ donation man has found a way to give of himself and his body so that others may continue to live.”

Many Protestants and Lutherans favour organ donation. Judaism considers saving a life superior to maintaining the sanctity of the human body. Buddhism, Hinduism and Greek Orthodox religions do not ban organ donation. And Islam claims that if a cadaver organ is put to good use in a living person this is indeed charity.

Studies show that there are several reasons why families refuse to allow the removal of a deceased one’s organs. But one fact stands out. 75 percent of those who refuse to donate believe it’s important that the human body remain whole when either buried or cremated.

But one has to ask why? I’ve never heard any theologian claim that you can’t get through the Pearly Gates if you’re short of one or two organs. Religion teaches that just the soul goes to the next world. So unless I’ve missed a chapter you can give away a dozen organs, in fact your entire body, and still enter the next life. In fact, if you believe only the soul departs this earth it should be of no consequence whether the body is consigned to the city dump or used as fertilizer.

My father reached an age when his organs were of no use to others. But we both did our math. We both concluded it was the height of human folly to cut down trees to place useless bodies in expensive caskets. Since neither of us wanted any of this, I scattered his ashes among the trees.

Looking again at the math, I believe theologians and their flocks have a major credibility problem. They preach brotherly love, yet walk away from those in desperate need of an organ transplant. One also has to ask, “Have theologians ever preached about the virtues of organ donation?” I’d bet a thousand to one that few of my readers have ever heard a sermon on this issue.

I’d suggest this holiday season that we all consider the sacrifice made by Zell Kravinsky and his one-to-4000 risk of dying. And what would be our risk? Although I was never a whiz at mathematics, my calculation shows that donating an organ after death results in zero risk of dying.

Would it be asking too much for theologians to preach about this humanitarian issue? To remind church-goers that those with one kidney can enter the Pearly Gates just as easily as those with one leg. That it is better to give than to receive particularly when the risk is zero. And to hand out donation cars at the end of the sermon.

PS - If anyone hears of a sermon on this matter I’d like to know. And my best wishes for a happy holiday.

I must admit I haven’t had the courage to tackle this subject at a dinner party. But I’d love to hear the result from anyone who has the intestinal courage to do so this holiday season. And my apologies if readers develop a stiff neck.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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