Most people find it uncomplicatedly admirable when a person risks his life to save a stranger from fire, or from drowning. What, then, is it about saving a stranger by giving a kidney, a far lesser risk, that people find so odd? Do they feel there is something aggressive about the act, as though the donor were implicitly rebuking them for not doing it, too? (There is no rebuke in saving a stranger from drowning -- you weren't there, you couldn't have done it. And you can always imagine that you would have if you had been.) Or perhaps it's that organ donation, unlike rescue, is conceived in cold blood, and cold-blooded altruism seems nearly as sinister as cold-blooded malevolence. Perhaps only the hot-blooded, unthinking sort can now escape altruism's tainted reputation, captured in the suspicious terms for what people are really engaging in when they think they're helping (sublimation, colonialism, group selection, potlatch, socialism, co-dependency -- the list goes on).And this quote from one of the fascists supporting the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) kidney breadline at the expense of donors taking the private option of self-selecting donor recipients:
Douglas Hanto, the chief of transplantation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, for instance, feels that the system should work the same way for everybody--that there should be just one line to stand in. He concedes that it's possible that MatchingDonors draws in people who wouldn't otherwise donate--people who need the tug of a human story to sway them--thus making everybody better off, but, as long as its dating-service model favors the photogenic, the eloquent, and the computerized, he is against it. "We are all going to die," he says. "We have to do everything we can for our patients, but within the boundaries of moral principles. As much as we want to save everybody, we just can't."I think the label "altruistic" is misplaced. I don't think the people donating need the tug of a personal story. From what I read, most of the donors think that it is inefficient to not donate a kidney that they're not using to someone who needs one to live. For instance, this description of a young donor:
The petty selfishness of daily life drove her crazy and she wanted to fix it. She hated the way that, in the checkout line at Target, a person with a whole cartful of stuff would not let a person with only one or two things go ahead of him. She hated that, when she was driving and let a pedestrian cross the road, the driver behind her would honk in frustration. She always tried to do nice things for others. At work, she would often buy coffee for her co-workers without being asked, though mostly this just bewildered people.I know how she feels, but as much as I'd like to say that empaths live in a horrible world of their own making, I think it's just that they think so differently. Maybe their world doesn't seem so ugly to them.