Can I Have Your Kidney?

In 2006, I wrote the following as an editorial in an Ontario  newspaper. It got a lot of comment, mostly negative. What do you think?


I’ll decide what I want to do with my organs, thank you

Darvin Babiuk

organs whig aug 17 2006

Opinion Columns – Thursday, August 17, 2006 @ 09:00

First off, I want to be perfectly clear that I don’t need your kidney. A heart, maybe. A brain, absolutely. As far as I know, courage can’t be transplanted. What I definitely don’t need is anyone, in or outside government, making decisions about my body parts for me.

The last I heard, there were four separate bills before the provincial legislature that have the purpose of increasing the likelihood people will donate their organs for transplant after their passing. The one that bothers me is the one that would legislate “presumed consent;” that is, every single organ in every single body would be available for harvest unless the corpse in question has explicitly stated otherwise – on the correct government form, no doubt. Probably in triplicate.

Let me get this straight: Billing that presumed consent for cable TV payments created such an uproar a decade ago that the practice was made illegal, yet we’re going to allow presumed consent for something as personal and important as organtransplants? Then we’re going to ask the same kind of body – government – that gave us the sponsorship scandal and the gun registry to oversee it?

Combine the sterling government oversight record with modern-day body-snatchers and the scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life might not be so fictional: You know, the scene in which two doctors arrive at a man’s apartment, hold him down and extract his liver, since he’s signed his donor card. Before they’re done, having also convinced his wife of the importance of organ donation and her own insignificance, she happily agrees to donate hers, too. In the modern-day version, we’d just have to make the doctors Communist Chinese and the “donors” adherents of the Falun Gong group.

I haven’t always felt this way. When younger, I would have been happy to have someone have my brain if I passed away. God knows, I didn’t use it much. Spleen, corneas? Take them too. What did I need them for where I was going? (My kidney was another matter; it was working overtime). To this day, I tell my wife to stand my corpse up beside the garbage when I go. I just hope she waits until I’m dead. What I don’t do is sign off on organ donation when I renew my driver’s licence.

What changed? Well, to begin with, marriage. I married into a culture that does not look kindly on such a thing. In fact, it is forbidden. So, first of all, there was the realization that other people, religions and philosophies have other ideas about the topic: strong ones. Then came medical evidence that suggests memory, cognition and personality (the soul?) don’t just reside in the higher organs of the nervous system but also at the cellular level in all tissue. There are case studies documenting such eye-opening reactions as a male patient who got a woman’s heart and soon was bothered by his new preference for the colour pink and a desire to wear perfume, and a health-conscious dancer and choreographer who suddenly became aggressive and impetuous, with uncontrollable urges for fast-food chicken nuggets; these traits were uncharacteristic of her but turned out to be eerily similar to traits of her male organ donor. What happened to these patients was not just personality change but change that closely matched the organ donor’s personality. If this were just the result of drugs or stress or coincidence or new vitality achieved through the transplant, as some would have us believe, the change wouldn’t specifically match the donor.

A wise philosopher (OK, comedian George Carlin) once riffed about how, as an Irish Catholic, he’d been told all his life that the single most important task he had was to save his soul. “Save your soul” came from the pulpit. “Save your soul” came from Sunday school. “Save your soul,” the nuns repeated as they whacked him across the knuckles with a yardstick. “That’s all we want, your immortal soul,” the good Father in the confessional would say.

“Uh-uh,” Carlin replied. “No way. You can’t have it. I’m saving my soul.” And the Catholics were after it.

Here in Kingston, we already have people having to retire against their will and health workers having to take flu shots against theirs. Some would say we even have a mayor who is going to give us an entertainment centre whether we want it or not. Are we now going to have Queen’s Park telling us it will take our body parts and decide what to do with them?

Sheesh! Where I’m going, even the devil has to have permission to take your soul. Apparently Big Brother doesn’t want to, which makes one wonder which is more evil. I’ll decide what to do with my kidney, liver and spleen, thank you very much. Because I’m “saving” them.

I will take that brain, though, if anyone has a spare one.


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