Dynamist Blog

Kidney Blogging Cont'd

A Presbyterian minister in New Jersey has donated his kidney to one of his congregants. According to this account from the Home News Tribune, Rick Oppelt was quick to volunteer, but his congregation was shocked by the decision.

Trapp's 60-year-old brother offered to donate one of his kidneys, but he wasn't a blood-type match. As she updated a friend about her condition after Sunday services at the Oak Tree Road [sic] Presbyterian Church last summer, the Rev. Rick Oppelt, the church pastor, overheard her say she was an O-postive blood type.

"He said, "I'm O-positive. You can have one of my kidneys, Carol.' I thought he was joking," Trapp said.

So she shrugged off the offer. But the prospect of grueling hours of dialysis kept her up at night.

Trapp called Oppelt and asked him if he was serious about donating a kidney.

"He said he was, but when I asked him if he had told his family, he said he told them "in passing,' " Trapp said. "I said you better think about this and you have to talk to your wife.' "

Oppelt's wife, Jo, called Trapp, telling her she thought her husband's offer admirable. Tomorrow, Oppelt will undergo surgery to give Trapp his left kidney....

Oppelt said he only announced his decision to donate his kidney recently.

"The whole congregation let out a collective gasp," he said.

In the near future, I hope such decisions will not produce gasps. Kidney donation is not only a life-saving act but, compared to many other risky things people do, a reasonably safe one. Donors with O-positive blood like Oppelt's are especially needed.

Unfortunately, as is all too common on the kidney-donation beat, there were many stories about Oppelt's donation before the surgery but so far I haven't seen any followup reports. UPDATE: According to this news story, both Oppelt and Trapp are doing well--despite a nurses' strike at the hospital where the transplant took place.

The Rocky Mountain News argues for incentives for organ donors.

The medical establishment has long considered it anathema to allow donors or their survivors to "profit" from their beneficence. The worry is that poor people will sell their organs out of financial desperation and thus in some cases compromise their health. But there are ways to minimize the risk that such a fully open market might pose.

For example, Washington could alleviate the shortage by considering pilot programs. One idea is federal income tax relief along the lines of laws operating in eight states, including Utah. Those states offer up to $10,000 in income-tax deductions to repay donors' travel expenses and lost wages.

Another possibility: "futures" contracts, in which recipients would pay up front some of the funeral expenses of those who elect to donate organs at death.

And the medical establishment should drop its objections to organizations like MatchingDonors.com. This site lets organ recipients find willing live donors and make transplantation arrangements privately.

We're certainly not comfortable endorsing a full-fledged market in organs, a regime that would allow donors to auction kidneys on eBay. But the current system is not compassionate; it amounts to a death sentence for thousands of Americans each year.

Ethicists and medical professionals need to acknowledge that fact and consider life-affirming alternatives.

On a lighter note, my three-kidneyed friend Sally Satel passes on this link to a transcript of a very funny fourth season South Park episode featuring less-than-voluntary kidney donation and a spoof of quack medicine.

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