Measured Extravagance

2001-05-04 - 5:53 p.m.

An If Project entry.

If someone close to you was in failing health and only by offering one of your vital organs could they be possibly saved, would you do it?

    It depends on how close. It depends on how vital. I know that a normal, decent person would answer "Yes, of course!" no matter what, but I'm not going to pretend: I know pain and I know ill-health and I'd be lying to you if I insisted there weren't limits to how far I would alter my life for another person.

Would you risk your life on the chance that another might survive?

    If I thought I would probably survive, yes. If I believed I meant more to them than just a means to another three-ten years of life, yes. If I thought it likely I would die, it depends - but if someone is that close to me, I don't think they would ask me to make that kind of choice, and vice versa.

I actually contemplated this question a while back: when my father was diagnosed with liver cancer, I looked into partial transplants. Had it been an option, I would have gone ahead with it.

I'd walk on coals or amputate a limb for the Beautiful Young Man. I'll donate bone marrow to a complete stranger if called. I wouldn't balk at giving a kidney to a very close friend, but putting my liver under the knife for anyone but? I just don't know. I might do it if I thought I could not bear the responsibility of failing to prevent someone's death, but I'll also admit that there are plenty of people in this world whose departures from it would give me more gratification than guilt (such as half of the 107th Congress), and while I'm too civilized to assassinate any of them, I also wouldn't lift a finger or scrape a single cell from my body to save them, much less subject myself to scalpels and anethesia and a battalion of post-op medications. A violation of the Golden Rule? I'm cynical enough to believe they feel the same way about me, even if it wouldn't do for them to say so.

If I had been Bess, I would have let the highwayman die. But after I'm dead, they can distribute the pieces however they wish - I won't care if the med students juggle my pickled brain with their PalmPilots (or whatever will be the organizer du jour by then) or employ my corpse in one of those gruesome decomposition studies. Just spare the BYM the specifics, since I want him to be able to put the ashes into a nice box, store it in his desk, and give it a pat or two every now and again. (He likes gruesome, actually, but I think the maggots would ick him out, even if they were fried to a crisp with the rest of the remains.)

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