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The waiting list for kidney transplants in America is 92,000 (and growing at a rate of about 10,000 a year). Seventeen people a day die while waiting for a kidney transplant. (Note: Statistics in countries like Australia and England, where non-directed organ donations are still rare, are even worse.) And yet all it takes to save one of these lives is for someone to volunteer to donate a kidney.

Many hospitals in America will find the most deserving recipient for a non-directed (aka altruistic, Good Samaritan, or anonymous) kidney donor. You just contact them and say that you would like to donate a kidney to help someone on the kidney transplant waiting list. The preliminary testing is usually stretched out over six months to a year (to be sure that you are not acting impulsively and doing something that you will later regret). Recovery takes about six weeks, although most patients are up walking by the second day after surgery. Your body functions perfectly well with only one kidney, and so it is unlikely that you will have any permanent side effects from having made the donation. You can go on to live a full and normal life.

The risks of donating a kidney are on a par with having a baby. About one in 3,000 donors will die (although that figure includes deaths in the early days of kidney transplants when the death rate was higher). We are not aware of ANY deaths from non-directed donors, because the standards for non-directed donations are much higher than for related donations. (Hospitals are often pressured to accept less than ideal donors from a kidney patient's restricted list of willing friends or relatives.) Also, in contrast with cadaver donations, hospitals have more time to ensure that everything is just right before a live transplant goes ahead.

Most kidney disease strikes both kidneys simultaneously, so having only one kidney does not make one more likely to need a kidney, apart from traumatic injuries to the remaining kidney. Nevertheless, in America, if a kidney donor should later need a kidney themselves, priority is given to them for a kidney transplant. So donating a kidney actually IMPROVES your protection against dying from kidney failure.

We first started learning this information about five years ago. It wasn't long before several of us Jesus Christians were thinking seriously about donating a kidney to someone who needed it. There was almost a race to see who could be first. We now understand that this is not unusual, that often family members have a similar competition in order to be able to save the life of a loved one. And others who have donated to strangers have said that they felt the same keen desire to be accepted as a donor, because they felt, like us, that it would be a great experience.

But it wasn't long before we discovered another competition of sorts. It was a competition by sections of the media to make something evil of our desire to donate kidneys. Articles and documentaries have been produced by both the print media and the electronic media in Australia, England, and America, and, apart from a few positive reports in local newspapers, they have all been surprisingly negative.

The reporters each claimed to be wanting to write something nice about organ donations, and they all stabbed us in the back. We, understandably, reacted angrily each time. But now we are beginning to see how their reports are quite a natural reaction, and probably part of a necessary evolution with regard to live organ donations... and especially non-directed live organ donations. We are also seeing how this reaction is not terribly different from what many other undirected organ donors experience, from the media, the general public, government bodies, and sometimes even friends and relatives.

If more people knew the facts about the need for more donors, we are confident that there would be more people volunteering to donate. But there seems to be a worldwide conspiracy to keep people from hearing the facts. Apart from local papers, which tend to give glowing reports about live donations, the stuff that hits the masses is generally far more negative than positive. Unconfirmed horror stories abound about people being robbed of their organs, being coerced to give, and about evil doctors who have turned illegal organ donations into a big business (as though they could not make enough money by doing something more legal).

So far in America, only about 400 people have donated their kidneys anonymously. That's a little over one person in a million. But then there probably are not ten people in a million who know all the facts that were listed at the start of this article. It seems that no one wants to tell them (and, sadly, that even includes the glowing reports in local newspapers).

People simply do not KNOW that they can do such a worthwhile thing as saving a life by donating one of their kidneys right now, while they are still alive. They are told that they can save lives by donating blood, and that they can save lives by volunteering to be a bone marrow donor. They are even told that they can save a life by donating a kidney after they die (although it is rare for anyone choosing to do this to actually die in circumstances where their willingness to donate a kidney will be of any use). But the masses have been kept deliberatety ignorant of the benefits of donating a kidney now, while they are still alive... even though the entire waiting list for kidney transplants could be eliminated if even one person in 3,000 who heard what we have just said would decide to donate.

The rate of donations from people who have been put on life support machines has not increased significantly for many years. One problem is that organs can only be taken from people who are pronounced brain dead and kept on life support during the time it takes to notify a recipient and get that person to the hospital. The organ is taken from the person on life support about the same time that the plug is pulled on the machine. An added problem is that a kidney taken like this lasts, on average, only about half as long as one taken from a live donor.

So why aren't people being told that they can donate a kidney while still alive? There seem to be two main reasons: First, the people in control of such big organisations as the National Kidney Foundation, are not willing to donate a kidney themselves, and so they feel that it is not fair to encourage others to do something that they personally would not be willing to do; and second, the people who have donated are heavily pressured not to encourage other people to donate. We are told that we are showing off or that we are laying heavy guilt trips onto the rest of society when we push for more emphasis on live non-directed organ donations. Even the people in need of kidneys are accused of 'begging' if they actively seek help from someone to save their life. Some people have been known to die without even telling their closest friends and relatives that they needed a donor.

And then there is the rare case of some donors actually speaking out against others being encouraged to donate. The positive coverage they get rarely encourages others to do the same thing. And if they gave to a close friend or relative, they have the added feeling that what they did is okay, but that anyone who goes so far as to give to a stranger is going too far, taking a risk that they should not take, or being pushed into something that they should not be encouraged to do. As long as these reports continue to put the donors up on a pedestal without explaining how easy it would be for others to do the same, they will have the overall effect of making others feel that what has been done is unrealistic for 'normal' human beings.

It becomes the responsibility of those of us who have donated to stop all the flattery and to let people know the truth... that what we did is no big deal... at least not by comparison to the life and death battle that has been going on, often for many years, in the lives of the recipients.

There is a spiritual parallel here with many of the things that Jesus did and that he asks us to do. It is difficult for many of us to imagine why the world would crucify someone who just went about doing good, healing people, giving them hope, occasionally feeding their bodies, but always feeding their souls.

We live in a world where there is a lot of talk about doing good; but reality is that people do not like anyone being better than themselves. If we, like the Pharisees, are stunted at the level of giving token donations out of our great abundance, then we don't like others doing more than that. To use an old-fashioned churchy term, they 'convict' us by their level of love and commitment.

Most of the time we can just ignore such super-saints, but if they are persistent, then we have to de-value their actions, and ridicule them as extreme, maybe even dangerous. Can you see how the 'conspiracy' works? Just about everyone has a vested interest in NOT making costly sacrifices to save the lives of people suffering from kidney disease. So they tell themselves that the people who do donate are crazy or fanatical, and they try to convince themselves and others that some other 'easy' solution (maybe even harvesting the organs of animals) will eventually make the problem go away.

Some who donate can be corrupted by flattery, so that they will obediently say that what they did is not really suitable for others.

Nevertheless, if there are enough people willing to take a stand against this senseless attitude, then over time live undirected kidney donations will become almost as widely accepted as bone marrow donations are today. And when that happens, the same people who condemned us when we started pushing for more live non-directed kidney donations will praise those of us who pushed for such a change. It's just the way society works.

So if you want to be part of the change, start checking into what is involved in donating a kidney. We recommend that you visit where you will find people arguing both sides, but also sharing lots of practical information from their own experiences.

Of course you can also contact us directly if you have any questions or comments on this topic.

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