Sunday, December 04, 2005

I am not an organ donor

I am a wannabe scientist. I have a fairly good grasp of what the human body is, and what we are composed of. I know that becoming an organ donor can, and does, save lives. And yet, I am not an organ donor. When challenged by M, yesterday, I had a hard time articulating why this is. I object to the fact that people are asked to be an organ donor when they are sixteen, at a time when most teens feel invincible and immortal. I object to the idea that people are making decisions about their death, on the fly, at the DMV. I object to the fact that people rarely know what they're getting themselves into when they become an organ donor, and few people than we would care to admit actually consider their families when they make such a choice. Do we think about whether it would make it easier or harder for our families to mourn? Would it complicate the ordeal they would have to go through in the event of our deaths (especially in the off chance that I end up on life support and doctors are pushing to remove me from it so that my organs could be donated)? Would it offend their religious beliefs if I were cremated? I am 23 years old. I am not ready to face the undeniable fact that one day I will die. I will cease to exist. I will no longer be able to experience the simple pleasure of life and consciousness. I will close my eyes, "fall asleep", and the world will continue to spin but I will not be able to witness it. It is not that I wish myself to be more important than I am, it is that I am so infinitely curious of what will happen next, the idea of not being able to know and sense my environment is terrifying. And yet, this gut instinct is hard to describe, and certainly hard to describe effectively. This fear that causes me to periodically hyperventilate and panic cannot be done justice with words alone. Right now, it sounds kind of lame, but this fear of my death is so real to me that I can remember the exact moment it first developed: I was four or five years old and listening to an audiocassette on dinosaurs (I wanted to be a paleontologist like every little kid on the face of the Earth). They were talking about digging up dinosaur bones. I hadn't until that moment late at night, alone in bed, realized that the bones being dug up once belonged to real, living breathing creatures. Then I imagined someone fingering my own bones, and realizing that, someone could, possibly would, and that when that happened, I would not be able to see, feel, touch, taste or smell. I would not be able to think or dream. I would be this thing -- dead. I couldn't imagine anything worse than losing me so completely. With that in mind, I am terrified of the idea of being cut open and harvested. I am terrified that one day I will be in such a state that my body could be so violated and I (whatever I am) wouldn't care, because indeed, I wouldn't exist. I am terrified that when they are done, all that would be left of the me that I currently understand myself to be is would be so much bits of flesh and bone to be burnt and scattered to the four winds. I don't want to die. I haven't even really gotten past the mental hurdle that allows me to be comfortable enough with the fact that I will to think about what will happen after that. Burial or cremation? Who do I leave my worldly posessions to? How will I make preparations to say good-bye to those I love? I can't even contemplate these questions. What really unsettled me though was the idea there was a bonafide problem that I, as a woman of science rather than of faith, a woman who "knows better", could have so many reservations about giving my body away. M rattled off a list of arguments about why I should become an organ donor; there are Christians who are organ donors, she said, in response to my concerns about spirituality. Not being an organ donor is like condemning people to death, she said, when I remarked about my fears of death. You won't be using those organs anymore, she said, when I described my fears of being harvested. What do you care what they think, she retorted, when I explained my concerns about family. By the end of it all, I felt as if she were telling me that my choice to wait and mature before choosing to become an organ donor were unintellectual, not thought out, or just plain stupid. This gave me pause for thought. Beyond the typical concerns I have with opinionated people being so set upon their opinions that they refuse to consider the validity of the other side, I wondered if it was really so bad for me to not be able to articulate a "real" reason why I am not an organ donor. Beyond what I have stated here, I have no "good" reason, and yet I cannot compel myself to check that box on my driver's license application (and I have been faced with it twice in my life already). As with all struggles between science and faith, just because science is backed up by... well... science doesn't necessarily mean that faith always loses out. I think it's important that we overly Liberal academics, though able to support our arguments with experimental evidence, not forget that those who have faith are not (at least not usually) morons. We do the entire conflict a disservice, I think, by categorizing the faithful as the unintelligent -- sure the facts don't support the faith, but that doesn't mean the faith should be unilaterally and disrespectfully dismissed. Sure, intelligent design isn't logical, but that doesn't mean those who honestly want to believe in Creationism immediately, and on the basis of this alone, deserve our derision. While I firmly believe in science, I don't think that should give me license to be narrow-minded about my own paradigm of understanding. While we may be "right", we are wrong to treat ourselves as proponents of the "obvious". My fears of my own mortality are tangible to me. As much as my years of scientific education tells me that, for all my pretense at ego and consciousness, all of my awareness is little more than a synaptic neuronal network of electric impulses, I can't let go of my desires to be something more. I believe in my fear, and that is what gives it relevance. They fuel my reluctance to go to doctors frequently (I'm afraid they'll find a terminal illness or something else unfixably wrong with me) and are my reason for feeling apprehensive about becoming an organ donor. I know being an organ donor is the "smart" thing to do; all logic leads me to the knowledge that being an organ donor "makes sense", but that does little to assuage my fears. I expect that one day, ten or twenty years from now, I will become comfortable with my life and my eventual death. I can imagine that one day, I will be ready to leave this world peacefully and, in that case, will want to give life with my own death. Perhaps by then I will have had a talk with my loved ones and come to an understanding about what to do when harvest time roles around. Perhaps by then, I will feel I have given this decision enough thought and come to a choice I feel is morally and karmically right. This is a big decision to make -- give me the chance to do it justice. And until then, please, all of you who are comfortable with your mortality, all of you who have quelled these fears and have let the "knowing better" win out, don't over-simplify my feelings. Don't act like I'm ignoring the "obvious" right answer. All of you who are organ donors, I applaud you, because you really are doing a good thing. But don't imagine that because I am not an organ donor, I want transplant patients to die. Don't think that because I am not an organ donor, I am uneducated, selfish, or just plain wrong. Don't mock my questions and think you have the answers. I am not an organ donor. I don't, honestly, know why, nor could I tell you if I did. And, maybe, just maybe, there's nothing wrong with that.


Blogger James said...

Jenn, M's just a dogmatic idiot.


As long as a person expresses that they are still considering a topic, derision towards their perspective is not warranted. I deal with people all the time who find my atheism untenable and morally corrupt, but as long as they respect my ability to decide for myself what I choose to believe in, we can converse freely. Sounds like M needs a crash course in intellectual tolerance.

"Sure, intelligent design isn't logical, but that doesn't mean those who honestly want to believe in Creationism immediately, and on the basis of this alone, deserve our derision." - Jenn

Very true. It also means Creationists should not define science curricula for American high schoolers, but that's just my opinion.

But in general, Jenn, you are doing the sensible, academic thing by deciding for yourself what you choose to support, on your own schedule. M will be a mindless mouthpiece tomorrow, a Terri Schaivo wind-up doll on loan to Howard Dean from She's not worth your time.

12/04/2005 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite aunt just got a kidney transplant that most likely saved her life. She was on that list an awful long time, but got a perfect match very suddenly from a 25-year-old who died in an accident. Prior to the transplant she had endured years of medications, illnesses, exhaustion. She couldn't work a full-time job. And she was about *this* close to having her kidneys give out entirely and going on dialysis (which is so unpleasant...)

And then she got the phone call that there was a kidney for her. She is incredibly grateful to that person (she doesn't know who it was, male or female, name, anything!) and she thinks of their family every single day. She prays for them every day. Someone is very sad for that person right now. But many other someones (for surely there were other organs given) are celebrating right now for the gift that person chose to give with their death - the use of their organs has benefited other human beings in desperate situations and brought joy to so many families in this holiday season. Maybe someday it will give comfort to that person's family to know so much good has come from what happened to their loved one - at least, I hope it does.

There's nothing wrong with choosing not to become an organ donor, it's your call. But I wanted to offer a point of view that's not intellectual or political. Just one person's gratitude for the gift of organ donation.

12/08/2005 06:15:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home