Extreme Generosity: Give a Kidney to a Stranger?

November 25, 2013

By: Wayne Baker

Originally posted on Our Values

Nature gave you two kidneys, but you only need one. It’s one of the ways in which our bodies are over-engineered. Indeed, one kidney can easily do the work of two, even if the one is not fully functioning. This means that you can give one away and still live a healthy life.

But, here’s the tough question: Would you give one of your kidneys to a stranger—no strings attached?

About one in ten Americans has some form of chronic kidney disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 90,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney transplant. If one of them was a loved one—a spouse, child, sibling, or a parent—would you donate one of your kidneys to the person?

Many people do just that. Suppose, however, that you weren’t a match (incompatible blood types is a common reason). Would you give a kidney to save a stranger’s life, if it meant that some other stranger donated a kidney to your loved one? Many people would say yes. There are many cases of paired exchanges, involving two or three people.

The Science of Generosity defines generosity as “the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.” Donating a kidney is an act of generosity, regardless of the reasons for the donation.

But what would make kidney donation an act of extreme generosity? That’s the topic we will explore in this week’s series on OurValues.org.

Extreme generosity is giving a kidney to a stranger without conditions. Matt Jones of Petoskey, Michigan, is a living example. This father of five decided to donate a kidney to a stranger—with no conditions. He didn’t have a family member or loved one in need of a kidney. His act of extreme generosity sparked a chain of kidney donations that was covered by the national media, including a spread in PEOPLE magazine. Since Matt’s chain in 2007, his action also has sparked further chains involving selfless donors. That’s quite a gift!