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Should he donate his kidney?

A philosophy professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland asked his class if he should donate a kidney to a stranger. What do you think?

By Local Editors  |  December 23, 2010; 9:50 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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What I find distressing is the question itself. For the answer depends on a lot of circumstances.

If the professor wants to donate his kidney to some suffering stranger, few of us will say to him "Thou shalt not." On the other hand, most of us will recoil at the notion of force or pressure on the professor to donate a kidney. So the right answer is "it depends."

We humans use language in a sophisticated way, making subtle distinctions, relying on implicatures and hypotheticals.

But the ever increasing practice of achieving "objectivity" by forcing us to "fill out a form" reduces human beings to automata, and simple minded automata at that.

It was in the sixties that the Beatles in one of their songs ridiculed the practice of filling out forms, but now form filling is back with a vengeance in the name of "objectivity" and "gauging public opinion."

Survey takers, and governments making public policy, have no way of dealing with actual human beings. So they are reduced to asking "Which machine are you?" and many of us obediently answer "That one," instead of "I am not a machine."

Posted by: rjpal | December 24, 2010 5:07 AM

What I find distressing is the question itself. For the answer depends on a lot of circumstances.

If the professor wants to donate his kidney to some suffering stranger, few of us will say to him "Thou shalt not." On the other hand, most of us will recoil at the notion of force or pressure on the professor to donate a kidney. So the right answer is "it depends."

We humans use language in a sophisticated way, making subtle distinctions, relying on implicatures and hypotheticals.

But the ever increasing practice of achieving "objectivity" by forcing us to "fill out a form" reduces human beings to automata, and simple minded automata at that.

It was in the sixties that the Beatles in one of their songs ridiculed the practice of filling out forms, but now form filling is back with a vengeance in the name of "objectivity" and "gauging public opinion."

Survey takers, and governments making public policy, have no way of dealing with actual human beings. So they are reduced to asking "Which machine are you?" and many of us obediently answer "That one," instead of "I am not a machine."

Posted by: rjpal | December 24, 2010 5:07 AM


Is there more to this story?
If not, it's a rather stupid question by the Post. But then, the Post has not had its best year, has it?

Posted by: familynet | December 24, 2010 7:07 AM

Sigh.

Another bogus WAPO poll with a false dichotomy and insufficient facts upon which to base an informed decision.

Posted by: bloggersvilleusa | December 24, 2010 8:53 AM

When I was a child, there was a famous scandal in New York City. A man named Mickey Jelke had been discovered to be running a prostitution ring. Being only eleven years old, I had to ask what a prostitute was. I was told it was "a woman who sells her body." My response was, "before or after she's dead?"

In my mind, the most likely reason for selling one's body might be for scientific research or some similar purpose, and of course the way to do that would be to leave your body to science in your will or pre-death directive.

My answer to the professor on this question is the same: "before or after he's dead?" If he wishes to become an organ donor when he dies, I am all for it. If he does that, two people, not one, can each get one of his kidneys and perhaps some other life-saving organs eligible for transplants.

If, however, he insists upon making the grand gesture during his life, he will endanger his own chances of survival making him a potential patient in need of his own transplant should his remaining kidney fail as he reaches old age.

If he really wants to do something for the many strangers who are out there needing kidney transplants, he should use his moral authority as a college professor to launch a drive for as many of his students as possible to sign up to be organ donors when they die and/or bone marrow donors during life.

That's what he should do, but that wasn't one of the choices in the poll.

Posted by: jrsposter | December 24, 2010 10:52 AM

I didn't read the article but went straight to the poll questions...which are stupid....first of all if ANY one wants to donate a kidney go right ahead...second, why would a professor need or want outside opinions from strangers on such a decision???

Sounds like a guy who craves attention...Now I will read the article, but beforehand he sounds like a guy who craves attention any way he can get it...

Posted by: pentagon40 | December 24, 2010 12:07 PM

WaPo your poll questions are vapid.

Posted by: rlj1 | December 24, 2010 12:09 PM

The students were correct in not coming with a "Yes" or "No" answer to the question, since the answer to the question obviously depends on the professor himself. I doubt the students nor the professor ever thought differently. Thus, what's interesting about the article (and completely missed by the previous comments) has little to do with whether any of "us" wants to donate a kidney or whether the professor should become an activist to convince others about organ donation--but rather that it's an excellent example of a philosopher professor trying to get students to connect philosophical and critical thinking to real-life issues rather than purely abstract metaphysics that having to do with the 'real' world or--what most students seem interested in--economic and business models to help them land a good, but probably mundane and ultimately meaningless, career. This professor is teaching them neither, and he thus raises more challenging questions about the nature of our education system. The fact that a professor challenges his students to think through a real dilemma is itself quite unique--and the important question is: why is this?

Posted by: juanito99 | December 27, 2010 12:39 AM

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