‘All Your Body Are Belong To Us’

Every time my inner paranoid thinks it can take a little break, something like this comes along:

New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky nearly lost his daughter, Willie, at 4 years old when she needed a kidney transplant, and again 10 years later when her second kidney failed.

“We have 10,000 New Yorkers on the list today waiting for organs. We import half the organs we transplant. It is an unacceptable failed system,” Brodsky said.

To fix that, Brodsky introduced a new bill in Albany that would enroll all New Yorkers as an organ donor, unless they actually opt out of organ donation. It would be the first law of its kind in the United States.

The fact that “9 out of 10 are favorable” to organ donation, but “only 1 out of 10 is signed up to be a donor” is a large part of Brodsky’s rationale. As is his claim that “overseas, 24 nations have it. Israel has it. Others have it. And it works without a lot of controversy.”

Sorry to be a naysayer, Assemblyman Brodsky, but in America, nothing works without controversy. This will (and should) be no different. “Opting in” to an organ donation program makes sense to me. Needing to “opt out” of the organ donation status quo — having to tell folks that I don’t want them using my kidneys rather than the other way round — makes me wonder just who it is that actually owns my body: me, or my government.

Besides, this particular issue has always been a thorny one for me. Despite the Catholic Catechism’s #2296, I remain uncomfortable with some of the more complex issues involved in organ donation. Part of it is a (perhaps increasingly legitimate) fear of The Nanny State, and part of it is a concern over the fact that someone else could soon be weighing my “right” to my very own organs against the needs of someone neither of us actually knows. But a large part of it is simply a discomfort over what exactly it would mean “emotionally” for major organs to exist in someone else’s body, or where exactly one should draw the line. If science eventually reaches the point where portions of my brain can be used for someone else’s betterment, is that going too far? Or what about a “whole body” transplant? When are we talking about an assortment of parts, and when are we talking about “me?” Perhaps that’s simply a sign that I am philosophically (or metaphysically) confused. Or that I’ve watched Return To Me a few too many times.

But it’s precisely this sort of discomfort — either my own personal difficulty with some of the more “nuanced” ideas of organ donations or that of any of the other “1 out of 10” folks that are not favorable to the notion — that makes this sort of legislation a bad idea. It should be assumed that well-behaved folks ask permission before “permanently borrowing” parts of someone else’s (hopefully, lifeless) body. Assuming that borrowing is “OK unless otherwise indicated” is a very different kettle of fish.


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

Join the conversation in our Telegram Chat! You can also find us on Facebook, MeWe, Twitter, and Gab.