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Anatomical Philanthropy

October 2, 2012

“Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.”

              ~Albert Schweitzer

The ever growing need for organ donation is a continuous struggle for life.  Many people are confused on the subject of “anatomical philanthropy.”  Before I decided to research this topic, I was one to ignore the subject and pretend that it didn’t exist.  Wikipedia describes organ donation as “the donation of biological tissue or an organ of the human body, from a living or dead person to a living recipient in need of transplantation” (Organ donor).  So what’s the issue?  Shouldn’t it be a quick, no strings attached process?  This is where people struggle to understand the problems at hand.

Clooney in “The Descendants”

When working with organ donation, there’s one big problem that always comes into play.  The questions surrounding determination of death always seems to be a dilemma.  When a person dies, the whole body doesn’t always die.  There’s a huge difference between brain death and cardiac death.  I can remember an accurate representation of this from the film The Descendants.  In the film, starring George Clooney, the main character faces the painful situation of removing his wife from life support.  The doctor tells him that he has to “get the ball rolling on organ donations.”  As Clooney hears the news, he begins to weep.  Although this is Hollywood’s representation, it’s an exact situation of the controversy surrounding organ donation.  Another interesting cinematic take on the subject is that of the film Seven Pounds.  In this strangely interesting piece, Will Smith plays a character burdened by the consequences of a fatal car accident.  While sending a text message at the wheel, Smith’s character crashed the automobile, killing his fiancee and six strangers.  Because of this, Smith goes on a secret journey to save the lives of seven other people.  Through seven separate donations, Smith successfully ends his life while securing his organs for transplantation.  This is a strange outlook on the topic; but, it’s definitely a nice take on the moral obligation to organ donation.

It’s also refreshing to take a brief look into how the process works.  Each state has its own donation programs.  Most of them work in the same way.  One of South Carolina’s donation services is called Donate Life South Carolina.  The agreement made through these organizations essentially causes one’s organs to be donated immediately after death.  Depending on the health of the individual, one person can save or improve up to ten lives.  The eligible organs include the heart, kidneys  and lungs.  Other tissues include corneas, heart valves, and bones.  The websites make donation out to be a very appealing process.  They include elements like statistics and testimonials to tug on peoples heart strings (pun intended).

It’s sad either way you look at it.  How is it really fair to guilt people into organ donation?  These organizations create a powerful moral obligation, which after registration, becomes a powerful legal obligation.  I remember the first time that I was filling out an application for my learner’s permit.  I thought, “Why wouldn’t I be an organ donor?”‘, so I marked a check in the box.  I’m not quite sure if I really agree with organ donation.  Most people argue that the quality of life after brain death is so low that it’s really not worth keeping the patient alive.  the truth of the matter is that we don’t really know what goes on in the mind of a patient within a comma.  I know that medical evidence proves that the brain lacks any sort of thought process; but, how can we really know?

Honestly, I don’t really know that I have an opinion with one side or the other; but, I do believe in giving people the opportunity to make these decisions themselves.  The websites and charities strongly support organ donation and encourage the process.  I understand this just fine; but, what’s the right thing to do in this situation?  Do you continue to give people the puppy-dog effect and make them think they’re a superhero, or do you get down to the cold hard facts and be honest?  I’m sure that I will one day face the reality of situations like these.  It could be my life; it could be the life of another.  Only time will tell.  Maybe I’ll turn to find someone who needs me.



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