Last week the Melbourne Herald Sun splashed on its front cover a story, titled Circle of Life, about the successful, coordinated planning of twelve simultaneous operations for the transfer of life saving kidneys from six donors to six recipients. As any two people are not always medically compatible for an organ swap, each donor offered their kidney to a complete stranger on the understanding that the donor's loved one would receive an organ in return from some other stranger.
It was an enterprise where "months of work had gone into testing …compatibility… liaising with hospitals and surgeons,..ensuring there [were sufficient] beds, …theatres and staff…". "Up to 80 medical staff had nervously been anticipating the big day, which could easily have been undone by a single sickness among the donors or recipients." The logistics of the procedure, which included five couriers racing couriers across the city, was described by a Professor Holt as "a huge challenge."
The Herald Sun added the ominous line, "If one person pulled out or was unable to donate the whole chain would be broken." The lives of six people would then have been seriously threatened, directly because of an unfortunate circumstance, but indirectly because of our existing bizarre, and lethal laws on organ trading.
To ensure a timely and safe transfer of organs, without the "huge challenge" of coordinating twelve operations simultaneously, all each donor would have had to do would be to sell his kidney at market price to a compatible person in need of one, and then use the takings to purchase a compatible one for his loved one when it came available on the open market. Apart from arranging adjacent theatres in a hospital, no coordination, with resultant costs, stress and fear, would be needed.
Of course this, unfortunately, is never going to happen in the current political climate because selling body parts for money is 'unethical' because it is 'mercenary'. It would be 'exploiting' poor people by offering them $100,000 (price estimated from an article in the Melbourne Age 1/5/2013) to give up a kidney.
The inanity doesn't end with the "grubby" trading aspect. This week it was reported in the media that an ex-convict named Barry Bazley, who has previously donated a kidney, offered to donate all the body parts of his fit, non-smoking, non-drinking person post mortem, on the condition they do not go to "police, lawyers or judges." The Organ Donor Registry responded by telling him it will not accept his offer. Apparently the reason was not in defence of lawyers et al, but because the Registry does not accept conditions, despite the fact the gift is both free and lifesaving. In all probability Mr Bazley was not the first potential donor to make, or contemplate making, a conditional offer. One wonders how the President's annual report of the Organ Donor Registry could be written, "…we could have had another 50 donations but some were denied to lawyers, while some denied to tradespeople, others denied to men while still others denied to women, and others denied to foreign born while others denied to local born…"
The fact that some people in authority can be so arbitrary about receiving as a gift, something as important as saving a life, can be astounding. Even in the unlikely case that lawyers' standing in the community was actually as bad as people joke about, and most potential donors insisted the legal fraternity were not to receive, why should that be a reason to deny offers? If the lives of one segment in society cannot be saved, does it logically follow that therefore everyone else on the waiting list must also die?
Many of the approximate 1000 patients waiting for a kidney transplant in Australia either die or endure years of renal dialysis. As of 2011 the average wait was five years. Apparently this is better than letting the voluntary donor have the temerity to decide who shall get his organ, or letting some poor bastard, who is estimated to lower his life span by five years from the loss, make a bit of money which may well increase the quality of remaining life for him and his family.
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