New creation

UPDATE: I found out the day after posting this that, while prepping her for surgery, a tumor was found on Aunt Jo’s “new” liver, so she is back on the waiting list.  They anticipate having her back in the OR before the end of June.

My Aunt Jo is having liver transplant surgery as I write, and my Mom has asked me to ask all of my Facebook friends to pray for her. On the face of it, Mom’s request is uncomplicated: everyone needs prayer, and it is right to ask it for anyone any time. But when I am considering asking others to pray, my first thought is what I hope they will pray for, and in this case, my feelings are… complicated.

I have been generally opposed to organ transplants since adolescence. I made a conscious decision to not designate myself an organ donor on my driver’s license when I was 16, and I have continued to make that decision over and over again. I have been telling myself that I am acting out of a theological desire not to make a false separation between soul, mind, and body – to give preference to Christianity’s Jewish roots over its appropriation of Greek philosophy.

But I have to admit that I have a consistency problem. I am definitely ok with donating blood, and that is part of my body. “Ah, but it regenerates itself!” I say. And donating blood marrow, I am pretty sure I am ok with that. “It regenerates, too, given enough time.”

OK, so far so justified, but I find donating a kidney out of this world admirable, and kidneys don’t regenerate. Kidneys are organs, which means kidney transplants are in fact organ transplants, so… I am wondering: is the big difference for me that when someone gives a kidney, they are giving something that their body is in fact using, but other organ donors are, well, dead, which is to say, passive? Second kidneys are not extraneous – we *can* live with just one kidney, but it really is better to have two. Donating a kidney is extraordinarily generous: the donor voluntarily undergoes surgery in order to voluntarily give up a part of them that their body would be better off having, all things being equal. The philosophy underlying other forms of organ donation, on the other hand, seems to essentially be, “One man’s worm food is another man’s treasure.” Or maybe, “What good are these to me anyway? I don’t care, whatever.” As someone who believes in the resurrection of the body, that seems profoundly disrespectful to me.

But what if instead I am opposed out of mere squeamishness? Out of a sense that “dead people parts belong in dead people!” that I am trying to justify with my theology, but arises out of an irrational desire to run around in circles with my fingers in my ears, shouting, “stop this revolting behavior!!” In which case, I am doing the same thing that people are so often doing when they oppose gay marriage:  often it is that it has first offended their sensibilities, but they find solace in claiming that it is “because the Bible says…” Is that why I feel this way about transplants? Is it just prejudice?  Or is the irrational prejudice in the direction of seeing kidney transplants favorably?  Has the generosity of these donors made it impossible for me to stay consistent with my “the organ isn’t yours to give” line?

I tend not to think about this one too much, except when flaming off on the suggested “Organ Donation Sunday,” or when renewing my driver’s license, but… “Ask your friends on Facebook to pray for your Aunt Jo,” Mom says.

So… pray for my Aunt Jo please, friends.  My dear Seventh-Day Adventist, former medical missionary to Pakistan, sweet and generous Aunt Gloria Jo.  And while you are at it, say a prayer for me, too.  I am not sure what I am hoping you all will pray for – for either of us – but I am ok with that.  After all, the Holy Spirit intercedes… and all manner of things will be well.

2 responses

  1. Did you know that healthy livers also regenerate too?
    Having served as a chaplain for transplant patients, I just say “yes” in my drivers license. A very personal choice.

    • I had not realized that, Pam! I wonder what proportion of liver transplants are done in this way, with parts of healthy livers from living donors.
      It is indeed a very personal choice. Almost all of my loved ones are listed as organ donors on their driver’s licenses, too. The fact that I cannot bring myself to do so leads me to feel ungenerous at times. But there is a lot of theological ground for me to cover before I can get to the point of putting “yes” on my license.

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