03 April 2008

How Much For The Kidney?

From the Holy Communion newsletter:

Parts is Parts?

I’ve been reading a bit these last few weeks about organ donation (don’t worry, so far as I know my own organs and those of my loved ones are in relatively fine fettle). I’ve read some odd things, too: a serious proposal by a serious intellectual for “death by donation,” wherein prisoners on death row would be executed by the surgical removal of their organs for transplant into sick persons in need; I’ve read about “transplant tourism,” a fairly recent phenomenon involving persons who travel to such places as India or Indonesia where organs are available in abundance for transplant (as opposed to the “shortage” of organs here and in the first world West generally; I include the irony quotes because I read a news report last week that the number of patients waiting for transplant has been vastly over-reported by the relevant agency, with more than a whiff of scandal); I’ve read (not at all coincidentally) about impoverished Indians and Indonesians who have been pressured into selling a kidney in order to settle debts; I’ve read that Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Great Britain, has proposed that the U.K. go to an “opt out” plan for donation; that is, a system in which organ donation is presumed by the state rather than chosen by the individual; I’ve read stories of tearful meetings between the grateful recipients of donated organs and the loved ones of the deceased donor, of a widow who presses her ear to the chest of a stranger and hears the heart of her lost husband beating – and feels his presence; I’ve read about the trial currently ongoing of a surgeon who, allegedly, hastened the death of a terminal patient in order to procure organs for transplant into another dying patient; and I’ve read proposals that a market for organs be created in this country – that we move from the current donation model to allowing individuals to sell their own body parts for transplant.

Why all this reading about organ donation? This month, Caritas Fellowship, our outreach ministry to the Medical University of South Carolina, is sponsoring what we hope will be the first in a series of annual lectures in biomedical ethics. This year, that lecture will be titled “Organs for Sale? Thinking about Transplantation.” Our lecturer will be Gilbert Meilaender, Ph.D., who is the Duesenberg Professor of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University and a member of the President’s Council of Bioethics (I would commend his little book Bioethics: a Primer for Christians to all). Dr. Meilaender is one of our most influential bioethicists, having had an important role in advising the president and leading the public conversation regarding the difficult matters of embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and the host of other issues that arise during these days when the rapid pace of biomedical research so greatly outstrips our ability to think carefully and ahead of time about whether we ought to do all that we are able do, creating what Dr. Meilaender has called “the tyranny of the possible.”

One of Dr. Meilaender’s gifts has been to ask and articulate very basic questions about the nature, dignity and limits of our common humanity, the meaning of our bodies, and the right ordering of our common life, and then carefully to reason forward towards more specific questions and cases; for instance, is it a good idea in the long (or even the short) run to create a market for body parts? This topic will give us a good opportunity to think through some very basic questions – What am I? What is the relationship of “my body” to “me”? Is my body a unity or a conglomeration of separable (and saleable) parts? What rights do I have over my body? – with a wise man.

It is a great privilege to have someone of Dr. Meilaenders’s learning and stature with us, and I think this will be an interesting and provocative lecture - and not just for physicians and physicians-in-training, but for all God’s embodied image bearers, whose embodied humanity has been taken into the eternal and triune life of God by the Incarnation and Ascension of our Lord. So come listen and support this ministry! Here are the details:

Organs for $ale?
Thinking about Transplantation.

Gilbert Meilaender, Ph.D.

Monday, 21 April 2008
St. Luke’s Chapel, MUSC

Fr. Patrick



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