Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cold-Blooded Altruism

A classmate-friend altered me that this week’s New Yorker (July 27, 2009) contains an article that features a mutual acquaintance. The article is “The Kindest Cut” by Larissa MacFarquhar and concerns people who donate their kidneys to strangers. (Although the link is now dead, I originally found the article at: )

The acquaintance, named Kim, and her husband had served as missionaries in Mozambique and now served as pastors in an economically depressed area near Baltimore. The New Yorker piece discusses her motivation, the surgery itself, and the good prospects of the man (unknown to her) who received her kidney. “If you’re sitting around with a good kidney you’re not using, why can’t someone else have it?” Kim said. “For a couple of days of discomfort, someone else is going to be freed from dialysis and be able to live a full life. Gosh, I’ve had flus that made me feel worse [than the surgery]” (p. 51). This and the other featured stories are pretty amazing.

MacFarquhar notes that kidney donation surgery has a very low risk. Meanwhile, 87,000 people die of renal disease each year. The thought of dialysis is horrible to contemplate. So why don't more of us show love to others through donation? Why, indeed, does such a thing repel some of us? “Most people find it uncomplicatedly admirable when a person risks his life to rescue a stranger from fire, or from drowning," writes MacFarquhar. "What, then, is it about saving a stranger by giving a kidney, a far lesser risk, that people find so odd?… [P]erhaps 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…” (p. 40).

Lame as it sounds, I suppose Murphy’s Law prevents me from embracing this kind of altruism: that is, what if a family member or close friend needed a kidney after I donated one of mine to a stranger? I’d feel like I let down those I love.

Of course, that means I love those closest to me more than strangers. And as Jesus says, “even the Gentiles do that" (Matt. 5:47).

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