Should He Donate a Kidney?

This story popped up in my Facebook newsfeed this morning. A philosophy professor asked his “Altruism and Egoism” class to write a final paper, applying the learnings from the class to the question of whether he should donate a kidney to someone in need—something he has considered seriously for some time.

The assignment succeeded as a learning exercise; however, (or maybe I should say “and”) the class refused to come down on one side or the other.

“It was very clear that they believed that this would be a very good thing to do; an excellent thing to do, going above and beyond in all the usual sorts of ways we would talk about such charitable actions,” Taber says. “But they felt uneasy making that recommendation to somebody they know — namely, me.”

Lots of things to chew on here. I’m thinking specifically about the takeaway for religious communities. Christians are big fans of Jesus. We like his message. Loving our neighbor? Giving to the poor? We recognize these are very good things to do; excellent things to do. But actually doing what Jesus did, wholeheartedly?

Err, uneasy is a good word for that.

One of the commenters on the news story wondered if the outcome would have been different had the class known the potential recipient as well as the potential donor. I suspect it would have been harder to demur on the issue.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Should He Donate a Kidney?

  1. Roy Howard says:

    Years ago I had a colleague (and friend) serving a small rural VA congregation. He donated a kidney to one of the members of the congregation. It was all quite astonishing for most of us although the more seasoned pastors murmured out loud, with good humor, that it would be impossible for anyone pastor who came after him to ever “top” the beloved pastor who loved enough to give a kidney.

    This experiment and your comments do help me focus on the local expression of my spiritual life. Of course, some would say, if it’s not local then it doesn’t exist really. Another way to frame this is to ask myself “Am I willing to do the things that I would ask others to do eg. following Jesus.”

  2. I’m somewhat reminded of an old joke my grandpa used to tell:
    Two old friends were discussing how well they loved each other. One asked the other, “If you had two houses, would you give me one?”
    The second answered, “Of course I would! You’re my best friend!”
    The first then asked, “If you had two Rolls Royces, would you give me one?”
    The second again answered, “Of course!”
    Then the first one asked, “If you had two shirts, would you give me one?”
    But this time, the second said, “No, I couldn’t do that.”
    “Why not?? You’d give me a house or a Rolls Royce, but not a shirt???”
    “Well, the thing is, I actually *have* two shirts….”

    Seriously, though, I interpret the class’ reluctance to make a formal recommendation to donate the kidney simply because it is a very *personal* thing to do. My husband, for example, is not completely happy that I have Organ Donor noted on my driver’s license, because he has certain spiritual beliefs about the human body. My beliefs are different, so I’m a potential donor.

    I’m not sure what my religious takeaway from the story would be. Personally, I think your “You’ve got to be kidding” sermon pretty brilliantly addresses the gap between our supposed ideals and how we actually live.

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