Donor Conundrum

The Washington Post headline was pure clickbait, but it got me: “At 18 years old, he donated a kidney. Now, he regrets it.”

A young man gave a kidney to a step-uncle and lamented it years later, once he learned that he could face a higher chance of end-stage renal disease because of his generosity. He worries about his health. He thinks more should be done to alert donors about the risks of their gift. He wishes he had that kidney back.

It got me thinking about that other kind of charity — the kind not of money, or time, but (literally) of self. As a rule, I suspect we think giving is great, but we usually want someone else to take one for the team.

White House statistics show that 95 percent of Americans think organ donation is the bee’s knees, but only 50 percent are willing to do it post-mortem.

Scouring the Internet for reasons why the ratio is so low, I mostly found a lot of indignant anecdotal evidence about how doctors might prioritize your organs over your life (untrue), or about how the donation system is broken, or about how you aren’t able to choose what kinds of shady people might get your parts. I also saw a few arguments about how overpopulation is such a problem that we should do what we can to avoid exacerbating it.

But I look at it like this: My grandpa needed a kidney transplant when I was very young. I fuzzily remember many afternoons spent in parking lots with my mom, waiting for his dialysis to finish. He lived that way for years. He was lucky to get a kidney from a young woman killed in a car accident.

He died not so long ago, which is why that article made me think of the transplant that gave him all those years he might not have had. Now think about the hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for their second chance, too.

So I’m an organ donor. Easy decision.

Now, I completely understand having reservations about living organ donation.

It’s a big deal to give away an organ, and you should only do it if you are fully aware of the risks and feel confident in your choice. But after I’m dead? If they’re viable, by all means, take those kidneys. I won’t need them anymore. Maybe one day we’ll be able to grow new, usable organs in a lab. But that day is still far off.


I think a good intermediary step is giving blood, which I did for the first time this past week. People did, of course, ask why I was doing that, and what if I fainted or something else went wrong? Why risk it? Well, sure, those things might happen. I did feel a bit dizzy afterward, I’ll admit.

But we cannot only give that which has no consequences.

The process was efficient and easy. My tiny veins had no problem pumping out the required pint. I felt myself again after eating lunch and drinking some juice. I would do it again.

It’s a lot to give lungs, hearts or livers. But blood is a first step, an easy step — one that I hope you consider making.