Welcome, Jess! Thanks for bringing up the topic of kidney donation. A couple of years ago, I was set on donating a kidney. Then I had some doubts, and I haven't thought about it for a while. One of the reasons I decided against it was that the person's whose life I might extend would probably eat more factory-farmed chickens and eggs, and thus cause suffering that would outweigh the benefits to the recipient. I know longer think that that calculation is so straightforward, and I'm reconsidering again. Here a few further thoughts.
utilitymonster wrote:According to Kravinsky, the risk of death under surgery is about 1 in 4000. If you could save more than 4000 lives, which is pretty feasible depending on how well you play your cards, direct factors tell against getting the surgery.
The calculation is even more likely to come out against donating organ donation if you consider the chance that the organ will be rejected, that the person receiving the organ will likely be in suboptimal health, and that the recipient will likely be an adult rather than a child (most of the people saved by developing-world charities are young). So if you use quality-adjusted life years rather than lives saved as your metric, you'd likely do better sticking with working and donating money.
Another factor to consider is that you won't be able to work for two to three weeks
. (That website, by the way, says that kidney donation has not
been demonstrated to reduce life expectancy.) You could probably earn enough money in two weeks to save someone's life, and you wouldn't be risking yours.
As I see it, the primary benefit, which utilitymonster mentioned, is that kidney donation might make you a more altruistic person. Our behavior often influences our beliefs. (But if you consciously decide to donate a kidney to make yourself more altruistic, will you see through it and miss out on that benefit?)
Arepo wrote:Re kidney donation, why non-directed? It seems like you'd do best to at least avoid giving it to people who seem likely to relapse into habits that cost them their first one and/or are particularly harmful to society.
To some extent, I agree with Arepo: If I had a choice between donating a kidney to Peter Singer or the CEO of Perdue, I'd choose Singer. But as Jess mentioned, the information to make useful distinctions isn't easily available. There is a (controversial) website called Matching Donors on which people in need of organs pay a fee to post ads. On the other hand, if I picked a donor, I'd feel responsible for anything that went wrong. A couple of years ago, The New Yorker
published an article
(subscription required) about people's varying experiences with kidney donations. I'd recommend reading it if you're seriously considering this.
The calculus changes dramatically when you consider donating kidneys to do-gooders (e.g., animal-welfare activists or people who donate a lot of their money to effective charities). If you do this, Kravinsky's 4000–1 calculation is valid. If you know any do-gooders who need a kidney, spread the word; there's no reason they should have any trouble getting one.
From a personal, non-utilitarian standpoint, I think that donating a kidney is a beautiful and courageous act. I'm surprised that other people feel otherwise. The New Yorker
published some nasty letters from readers after it published the piece on Kravinsky. I certainly believe that Kravinsky could played his cards better, but why were people so ungrateful? Apparently, some people feel threatened by acts of extreme generosity.
Regardless of what you choose, you're a good person (or at least much better than the average
). It's nice to have you here.