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CNN Body Parts

NOTE: You can watch the CNN episode featuring Barry's donation at the bottom of this page!

On the weekend of June 3, 2006, The CNN Report broadcast a documentary called "Body Parts", which was about live organ donations. The report included coverage of Barry's kidney donation at Johns Hopkins hospital about a year before that. Unfortunately, the documentary more or less presented Barry as part of an overall case against organ donations, alleging that Barry had been coerced into donating, and that the surgeon and hospital had behaved unethically in accepting his donation. 

On our website is an article called A Student Questions, which deals with some of the valid arguments in favour of regulating organ donations. By reading it, people can see that we are not against improvements in the present legislation. But the CNN report was almost totally lacking in rational discussion of facts. Instead, it relied almost entirely on sensational and misleading drivel.

Without a shred of evidence to indicate any form of unethical behaviour on our part, CNN tried to portray us as a prime example of organ donations gone wrong. A nurse was produced who stated as fact that we coerce members into donating their kidneys. The same nurse called for an investigation into any hospital that would accept a kidney from a member of our community. A doctor was also presented who said that he is supicious of all Good Samaritan donations purely and simply on the grounds that the donors are NOT being paid for it, and so they must be trying to "fix" something that is presumably wrong with themselves psychologically. With those two inclusions alone, CNN was damning us, the hospitals, the doctors, and all other live unrelated organ donors. Ironically, the doctors were portrayed as evil because they make money from the donations, and the donors were portrayed as sick because they don't make money from the donations.

Perhaps the most significant distortion of the facts in the CNN documentary is the statement CNN made that the Australian media has alleged that Jesus Christians were coerced into donating. We challenge CNN to produce any such allegation.

So-called 'allegations' should always be treated with suspicion when mentioned in the media. A reporter could give a dollar to a bum and get him to make any 'allegation' the reporter wants the bum to make, and hey presto! They have an allegation and a scandal. Of course the reliability of the source of the allegation is all important.

The best source for an allegation about coercion to donate a kidney would be an actual Jesus Christian or a former Jesus Christian (and there are a few) who had earlier donated a kidney. But, of course, even years later, there still are no such people coming forward to say that they were coerced into donating. So CNN did the next best thing. They said that the Australian MEDIA made such an allegation. We would like CNN to put up or shut up, or, better still, put up or apologise... publicly. Which newspaper, TV station, magazine, or radio station anywhere in Australia alleged that Jesus Christians were coerced into donating? Give us the date, the exact wording, and the reporter who said it, please. Until you do, we are making our own allegation, which is that CNN lied, and that they knew they were lying when they said it.

"Body Parts" featured a nurse, Donna Luebke, who has apparently never met a Jesus Christian, never visited our website, and never contacted any of us by mail. To be fair to Donna, religion is not her strong point. She has spent a few years campaigning for better conditions for organ donors. But somewhere, someone whispered in her ear that the Jesus Christians are a "dangerous cult" and that they coerce their members into donating, and then CNN recorded her making her claims against the Jesus Christians. Here is how CNN summed up her contribution on the subject of the Jesus Christians:

Donna Luebke ... said she cannot believe hospitals take organs from Jesus Christians. "I think their leader's coercive of the followers," Luebke said. "I think there needs to be an investigation into what centers are doing those surgeries."

So Donna Luebke thinks that Jesus Christians have been coerced into giving organs? Why? Who put that thought into her head; and, more to the point, why didn't CNN bother to ask her what her reason was for thinking such a thing? Remember that Donna is not highly experienced with regard to the legal implications of making false and extremely damaging statements against individuals and organisations via the mass media. But CNN is. And we believe that they set her up. Her credibility as a nurse would be higher than that of a bum, and it probably didn't even cost them a dollar to get their allegation. All they had to do in return for getting the statement that they wanted from Donna, was to use it to campaign against organ donation.

When Donna learned, on Sunday, June 4, that she was the only person in the world who has ever made such a public and false allegation against the Jesus Christians, she went to the message board at LivingDonorsOnline and wrote that even if the Jesus Christians were not coerced, the doctors still should have nothing to do with Jesus Christians, because they don't have paid jobs, don't have medical insurance, and they live a nomadic lifestyle!!

In the original quote Donna was saying that any doctor or hospital that would accept a kidney from a Jesus Christian should be investigated. Imagine if she had said the same thing about hospitals accepting kidneys from Jews, or from African Americans. Her bigotry would have been patently obvious, and she would almost certainly have been faced with a string of lawsuits. Yet CNN's intrepid reporter thought that this was the kind of quote to build their report on. Never mind that we Jesus Christians shared with CNN a perfectly valid (if a trifle complex) explanation for why so many Jesus Christians have donated to strangers. (That explanation follows at the end of this article.) But valid explanations are not really what CNN wanted to hear. They wanted to hear that people who donate organs to strangers are sick, so that they could continue with their campaign against live organ donations.

When the CNN producer asked to film Barry's operation she said that the "Body Parts" documentary was going to be handled by someone who specialises in health issues. Religion was not going to be the topic at all. But "scientific" would not be a word that comes to mind when analysing what actually appeared in the documentary. The report had very little about the great need for organ donors or about the benefits of live organ donations in preference to cadaver donations. Instead, it relied almost exclusively on hearsay, innuendo, hysteria, and outright lies to give a picture of organ donations as reckless behaviour by irresponsible donors, doctors, and hospitals.

The report stated that organs had been accepted from people who were alcoholics, overweight, and from someone who was ten years old. We are told none of the specifics about any of these (or how the condition mentioned related to one's ability or lack of ability to donate an organ), but instead, we get some graphic information about someone who developed a golden staph infection as a a side effect of donating. Infections can occur with virtually any type of surgery, and the control of golden staph in particular is worthy of a report in itself. But it really has almost nothing to do with the specific dangers or alleged irresponsibility associated with organ donations.

If, for example, a hospital conspired with parents to get a ten-year-old to donate an organ, then that in itself would have been a far more interesting story than one about some Christian adults donating organs after careful and prolonged testing, both physical and psychological. The hospital that took an organ from a ten-year-old should have been named, and a full explanation demanded. But we suspect that nothing further was said about this supposed abuse, either because it was based only on hearsay, or because the ten-year-old had died and his parents had simply approved the harvesting of an organ after his death. In either case, the reference to the case was misleading.

Several times we were told during "Body Parts" that there is absolutely no accountability with regard to organ donors. How dishonest! Of course there is accountability. There are national regulations, which may need to be improved, but which do constitute some kind of control. There are medical bodies (e.g. the American Medical Association) which have their own guidelines. And there are the hospitals themselves. Our experience has been that the hospitals are VERY careful. We are not naive about their motives, and so we accept that some of their care comes because they fear public opinion (and valid documentaries that would blow the whistle if real abuses were located), and because of that they have stringent requirements, even though the requirements differ slightly from hospital to hospital. We accept that isolated abuses may occur, and that they should be pointed out; but that is not the same as saying that there is no accountability at all.

I could not believe all the tests that I was put through at the Mayo Clinic, even going so far as to ask me whether I snore. And when they found out that I did, it triggered even more tests because it seems that snoring can be an early warning sign of some other condition. Several of our members have been rejected as donors for such problems as having arthritis. And one woman was rejected because she had not yet had any children. "Come back after you have had your family," she was told. Another member was rejected because she had lived in England, and the hospital was afraid that she might have mad cow disease!

CNN was concerned about the lack of follow-up for organ donors. Certainly for the purposes of research it would be good to have detailed data about the long-term effects of organ donation. But the fact that recipients are followed up for life and donors are only followed for a year or two does not prove disinterest in the welfare of the donors. It is obviously related to the fact that the donors rarely have complications that affect them after the first few months, whereas recipients have to fight possible tissue rejection for the rest of their lives. CNN seems to have forgotten to tell us that.

The CNN documentary tells us that some living donors ended up years later on the waiting list themselves for kidneys. Obviously there is no way that one can guarantee that a person will never need a kidney themselves, and relatives of people who suffer from kidney diseases are probably in a higher risk group to begin with. But the report does not tell us how many of these donors who were put on the waiting list for a kidney suffered from diseases that would have affected both kidneys anyway. Almost all kidney disease affects both kidneys simultaneously. In such cases, having given one kidney away to someone else earlier has no bearing on what happens later. This puts the lie to the common assumption that one can fall back on a second kidney in the event of contracting kidney disease.

Something which particularly bothers us with regard to reports on live organ donations is that they jump unfairly between live organ donations in general and live anonymous organ donations. The statistics for anonymous donations are some of the most impressive you'll find with regard to any operations, and the fear-mongers will never release them. In particular, anonymous donors would have far fewer psychological problems afterwards. The reason is because doctors and families both have an extremely limited pool to work from when it comes to family members who qualify to donate. It is not easy to tell a mother that she cannot donate a kidney to save her child's life because she drinks too much, or because she was treated for depression ten years ago, or to tell a husband that he must watch his wife die, even though his kidney could save her life, but that the doctor won't accept him because he is overweight.

When it comes to coercion, it is family members who are put under the most pressure to donate. They often have the feeling that if the patient dies, the relative's blood will be on their hands. It is not like this with Good Samaritan donors. They are not even assigned to a patient until they have completed all of the testing, and have made a commitment to giving based on principle and not on emotional pleas. And when the operation is over, apart from a few thank-yous or a short celebration, they do not see the recipient again. So there are not the concerns that relatives have when they see the new kidney being treated roughly, or they see the recipient getting a lot of attention while they are almost forgotten. Anonymous donors are never faced with a bitter marriage break-up in which one partner walks away with the other person's kidney.

"Body Parts" featured one doctor who spoke out against all Good Samaritan donations. The report claimed:

"Dr. Robert Weinrieb said people who want to donate to strangers, for nothing in return, make him particularly nervous."

How scientific is that? But at least this time the expert was given an opportunity to explain why he was nervous. He says, "What makes me uneasy is the possibility that these people are trying to fix something in themselves."

Every single hospital that does live organ donations puts the donors through psychological testing aimed at answering as many questions as possible with regard to the person's motive for donating (and their emotional makeup). Either you trust your best psychologists with this one, or you just look for a nervous doctor and ask him to tell you what he thinks could be 'possible', and on that basis you end all donations. Obviously, there are limits to what the psychologists can know for certain. It's always that way with anything that people do. I have some serious doubts about the reasons why some people become doctors, but in the end, you often have to let some of your paranoias wait until you have better evidence. Weinrieb, however, doesn't seem to think so.

One final thing: We said that we would tell you the complex (but reasonable) explanation that we gave to CNN for the fact that so many Jesus Christians have donated kidneys. First, we follow a Guy who taught us to be prepared to lay our lives down in love for God and for others. So as a group, we are already committed to practical expressions of love, even if they are a bit difficult. Next, we all live together. So when one person comes back with an exciting report about how easy it was to donate a kidney to save someone else's life, and how good it felt afterwards, word spreads. Since the report aired, we have been contacted by a member of the Board of Directors of UNOS (one of the biggest transplant bodies in the world). He is a personal friend of the nurse who called us a "dangerous cult". He said that five members of his extended family have also donated as a result of their influence on one another. "So are we a cult?" he asked.

As word has spread about the Jesus Christians who have donated organs, a long line of people have directly approached our community asking help for specific people suffering from specific kidney diseases. In other words, the needs became a lot more personal than just cold statistics.

Obviously if you've never heard of the need and never met someone who had donated, it's unlikely that the thought would ever cross your mind. But our lives have been changed, and the influence has spread. There is no reason to say that we have been coerced when you listen to what has really happened.

To view CNN's Body Parts segment featuring a Jesus Christian kidney donation, press play in the player below.

Would You Give Your Kidney To a Stranger? Read the article that CNN published as a result of the Body Parts documentary they produced.
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