Living donor donations are becoming increasingly common. We frequently see on the news how a loved one — or a friend — of a patient in need donated a kidney, a lung lobe or even a part of a liver.
When it comes to an organ donation, we are talking about a major surgery performed under a general anesthesia, a prolonged recovery and a lifetime of living with less than a complete set of organs. Such a donation takes courage. It is a sacrifice made by more and more people — even total strangers to the recipients — today. To me, these people are heroes because the prospect of living with fewer organs than my body was originally designed to have would worry me.
With that out of the way, let’s change the subject for a moment. The Earth has different types of natural resources. Our oil, coal or water resources are limited and can be exhausted. Other resources such as wind, solar energy or bamboo are renewable resources. We can use the latter and because renewable resources replenish themselves — so to speak — they won’t become exhausted in the foreseeable future. You guessed it: there is a parallel between the brief digression into the topic of natural resources and living donor donations.
Living donor’s organ donation is not the only way to save lives, cure diseases and help people. Living donor’s tissue donation (blood or bone marrow) is the other. The main difference between these two types of donations is — yes, I am simplifying! — that once you donate a kidney or a lung lobe (it isn’t true for a partial liver donation) you exhausted a part of your natural resources. When you donate living tissue, you’re donating your renewable resource. Tissue donation requires generosity but it won’t leave you worse for wear. The life-saving bodily liquids you can donate replenish themselves (your body regenerates them); under certain circumstances the renewal stimulated by the donation is actually beneficial to the donor’s health. There is more, you could donate blood or bone marrow — without the fear of depleting your own resources — several times and save more than one person’s life!
• a living donor organ donation is a donation of a limited natural resource
• a living donor tissue donation is a donation of a renewable natural resource
The first one involves a risk and is a major sacrifice. The second — not less generous — is an act of sharing what you have to spare. I’m not diminishing the value or importance of tissue donation: it is life-saving. I’m not saying that it is entirely pain- or hassle-free, there is some involved. Just like a kidney or lung lobe’s donation, tissue donation is sharing and life-saving but without the potential risk of diminishing your quality of life now or later.
There are other ways of looking at living donor tissue donation:
• If we have tissue that’s a renewable resource, isn’t not donating it selfish?…. Isn’t sharing a renewable resource a moral obligation of sorts?
• Should some people die because those who could save them (who are in effect, THE CURE!), don’t know enough to do so? Wouldn’t it be like dying from hunger in a well-stocked grocery store?….
We don’t control the skin or eye color we’re born with and we don’t control what disease we — or the people we love — are dealt. You, I, or someone we love may potentially depend on a living donor as a cure for an otherwise terminal disease. Finding such a donor may be difficult or impossible because living tissue donation isn’t well understood.
Preservation of natural resources, environmental sustainability, recycling, repurposing are all buzzwords, today. We use them in reference to the Earth’s natural resources. And what are WE? Aren’t WE a form of a natural resource?……. We “use” or use (not a mistake!) one another all our lives.
If you think about it, we are also natural resources and — in the case of living tissue donations — renewable resources.
I’m a writer, not a scientist or a politician which means that I don’t have the knowledge of a scientist or the legislative power of a politician; it also means that I could potentially “beat” both in the imagination department.
As you may have guessed by now, I’ve had a rather personal and negative experience that involved living donor tissue donation or to be more precise, a lack thereof. (I don’t think much of our current donor compatibility screening system, either. In my experience, it serves its own ends of raising money, not patients in dire need of living tissue donations.)
From where I’m standing it would be advisable to:
• either have every baby’s own tissue / stem cells frozen and stored, just in case
• or there ought to be a law that would mandate everyone be tested for compatibility with the data stored in some worldwide tissue / stem cell data bank (Incidentally, did you know that the compatibility test for bone marrow donation involves a drop of saliva and is entirely painless?)
Am I too extreme? I didn’t say that anyone should ever be forced to become a donor. Still, we are peculiar renewable resources: sometimes selfish, sometimes uninformed and often, simply uncaring. Don’t worry, I have no power to make either of my suggestions a reality. I hope however that I’ve given you something to think about.
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Originally published at medium.com