Jessica Pishko in The Morning News:
People talk about feeling in debt when someone donates an organ. Dr. Sally Satel, who had a kidney transplant and is a doctor, eloquently writes about her mixed feelings of relying on someone else for a vital organ. She thinks organ donation should be a purely financial transaction, more like buying a used car, without all of the feelings that come along with a personal exchange. “I wanted my donor to be completely anonymous so I could avoid the treacherous intimacy of accepting an organ from someone I knew,” she writes. She later quotes the work of two sociologists who discuss the “tyranny of the gift,” the idea that once someone does something altruistic, they are bound forever like debtor and debt holder, “in a mutually fettering way.” I see where she’s coming from. Permanent ties to people used to make me nervous. But then I had a child.
My uncle received a kidney from an old student of his. I’ve met the donor, and he seems like a nice guy. He gets a lot of hugs and congratulations. I don’t know if my uncle feels indebted, but I suppose he might. Maybe he is more comfortable being intimately entangled with other people. I’ve heard there are strangers who offer to donate kidneys. My father has received emails from around the world—war-ravaged African countries, China, the Middle East—from people offering their kidneys. They don’t name their price, but he usually assumes the debt would be too big to ever repay. It turns out Dr. Satel got a kidney from a friend who was just the right distance: not too intimate, not too far. I’m glad it worked out for her that way, but it must be a struggle to maintain relationships that aren’t too entangled, that aren’t too fettering. She was relieved to find out she wouldn’t have to talk to her friend about the kidney she gave her; all that gratitude would just go unsaid.