Giving the gift of life: kidney donors double

A growing number of people are choosing to donate a kidney to perfect strangers. It's a painful and difficult procedure, but for those who get the organs, it can make all the difference.

Last year, Mark Moorhouse did something extraordinary. After weeks of physical and psychiatric testing, despite the fears of family and friends, he donated an organ to a person he'd never met.

Today, only a small scar on his abdomen shows where surgeons cut him open to take out one of his two healthy kidneys. But the surgery is dangerous. One in three thousand people will die under the knife.

Was it worth the risk? Moorhouse thinks so. 'I feel quite proud,' he said, 'that I've saved or extended someone else's life.'

Thousands of people in Britain live with kidney failure. For most, that means a life of constant suffering or an early death. The only treatment is called dialysis, where blood is filtered through a specialised machine. The frequent hospital visits this involves have a terrible impact on patients' lives.

But all that can be changed by a kidney transplant. A new, healthy kidney, put into the ill person's body, can give them a new chance at a normal, healthy existence.

The problem is that there aren't enough healthy kidneys to go round. Some sufferers can receive organs from family members. And people with donor cards allow their kidneys to be donated after they die. But for most victims of kidney failure, receiving a transplant is nothing more than a distant dream.

And yet, every ordinary person has two healthy kidneys. To survive, you only need one. Almost all of us could give away a kidney without feeling any ill effects at all. If only a small percentage of the population followed Moorhouse's example, there would be more than enough kidneys for everyone.

Encouragingly, more and more people are choosing to follow his example. Voluntary donation was only legalised in 2006. Since then, the number of volunteers has been growing. New figures released by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) show that there were 40 voluntary donations last year – twice as many as the year before.

But although the number is growing, it is still very small. Only around 80 people have ever voluntarily donated a kidney to a stranger. The number of people waiting for donated kidneys is over 7000.

The greatest gift
Vicky Marshment, at the HTA, is 'blown away' by the generosity of the people who donate. It's a 'profound and selfless act' she says, which can 'change lives.' 'I don't know if there are any greater acts of altruism out there than that.'

Mark Moorhouse suffered weeks of pain and anxiety to give away a piece of his own living body. All this to help a person who he didn't know and who he would never meet. How many of us could do the same?

You Decide

  1. Would you ever donate a kidney to a stranger? Why / why not?
  2. 'Altruism is just stupid. I'd never do something if there was nothing in it for me.' Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Why might people be unwilling to donate organs? Draw up a list of possible reasons and then debate with your class whether or not you agree with them.
  2. Investigate the history of transplants, and write a short article on the subject.

Some People Say...

“Organ donation should be compulsory.”

What do you think?

Q & A

You mentioned 'an act of altruism'?
Altruism is when you act generously without any expectation of personal gain. So with kidney donation you get nothing out of it except the knowledge of having helped someone else.
And do transplants work with any organs except kidneys?
Yes. You can transplant almost anything except a brain. The latest innovation is face transplants, which help those who've been seriously disfigured.
Surely to donate most organs you'd have to be dead?
Indeed. Many people carry special donor cards. These tell doctors that if you die, your organs can be used to save other lives.A Exactly. By talking to your GP, you can arrange to donate one of your two kidneys. It shouldn't make any difference to your quality of life.

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