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Foolish Organ Donation Policy

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 7, 2007

Under the Pundit’s picture on his driver’s license, you find the words “organ donor.” In the State of Florida they ask each applicant if he is willing to donate. Having it on the license is crucial because speed is of the essence in successful organ transplant.

The subject comes to mind because Robert Goulet, the baritone who won fame playing Lancelot in the original Broadway rendition of Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot — along with Julie Andrews and Richard Burton — recently died at age 73 awaiting a lung transplant.

Goulet was something of a man born in the wrong time. He rose to stardom after Elvis had already begun a transformation in musical tastes.

The New York Times obituary reminds us that in 1961, he was identified as “just the man to help stamp out rock ‘n’ roll.” But the Beatles soon appeared and that battle was hopeless.

So he was just a man with a great voice — although one considered so good looking that Judy Garland called him a “living 8 x 10 glossy,” and women were known to toss their hotel room keys to him when he performed in Las Vegas.

Harkening back to an age with a different definition of male elegance, here is a little clip of Robert Goulet and Bobby Darin kicking off a season of The Andy Williams Show.

They start out by introducing Kraft as a new sponsor and end up with a corny routine:

Robert Goulet was a very successful man, but, of course, all that success won’t get you a lung transplant. So he is now dead.

Oftentimes in the Pundit, we’ve written about a tendency to avoid association with bad, more than a desire to do good. In this piece about child labor being used to produce clothes for the GAP, we pointed out that GAPs sanctimonious promises to root out the problem will do exactly zero for the children.

Equally our policies on organ transplants — that make it a crime to offer money in exchange for an organ — do little other than guarantee that people needlessly die every year and families that need money don’t get it.

There are a lot of efforts afoot. This group is trying to set up a “preferred list” so that people who have volunteered to donate organs will get preference in receipt of organs.

These economists help enable elaborate swaps in which Joe wants to help his son, Max, but doesn’t match so donates to a stranger named Julie whose brother John donates to Max. These can be elaborate chains, and the operations must all happen simultaneously to prevent people from backing out.

The truth is that people doing this are surely receiving valuable “consideration” for donating an organ and, thus, an honest reading of the law would say it is illegal, but advocates got the Justice Department to issue a finding that it is not.

Others are trying to change criteria so that more people are acceptable as both live donors and deceased donors.

These efforts are all laudable, but they are also all evasions of the truth, which is that there are hundreds of millions, probably billions of people alive today who would consider it advantageous to donate a kidney, a portion of their liver or a lobe of a lung in exchange for proper medical care and compensation. It is also true that millions who die and never were motivated to make the selection to donate organs would do so if they knew their families would benefit in some substantial way.

Denying the opportunity for these transactions doesn’t help anybody and hurts many, and we do it just so we can avoid feeling sullied by people’s selfish nature.

When Robert Goulet had prostate cancer, he spoke openly about it, encouraging many men to undergo testing. Early in his career, Robert Goulet won a Grammy award for his hit single, “What Kind of Fool Am I?” Perhaps his death waiting for a transplant will lead us to think deeply about how foolish our policy is on such matters.

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