Are you a selfish bastard?

There are plenty of people who are critical of skepticism, both from within and without the skeptical community. We’re accused of being closed-minded, grumpy, bearded doubters and nay-sayers.  We’re accused of armchair skepticism, of ivory tower skepticism, of ‘scientism’, and of being in the pocket of a mysterious large farmer.

Some people think we aren’t pro-active enough.  Some people say we should let people believe what they like.  We’re accused of preaching to the choir, of living in an echo chamber, of not meaningfully engaging with the other side of the debate.  We’re accused of being dicks, or of not being dickish enough.  We’re accused of both accommodationalism and fundamentalism.

Some of these criticisms are valid, some are bogus. Some seem to assume that there is only one way you should behave if you’re a skeptic, when really – it takes all sorts.

So here is something positive we can all do.  It doesn’t get in anyone’s face, it isn’t dickish, it isn’t fundamentalist or accommodationalist.  And I’d actually be pretty surprised if any skeptic had a serious objection to it:

Become an organ donor.

It’s easy. It’s free. You won’t get anything out of it until after you’re dead, except perhaps a smug sense of self-satisfaction.  But if you don’t do it, you’re probably just being selfish.  Your kidneys are no good to you after you’ve wrapped a car around a lamp-post, but they may just save the life of one of the four people who die in the UK every day because of a lack of suitable organs.

So get on with it… register as an organ donor now. No ifs, no buts. Chop chop.

(With thanks to the Prof for suggesting we champion this.)

  1. #1 by skepticarla on April 4, 2011 - 15:03


    Thank you so much for posting this. It’s hard for a healthy person to understand what getting a transplant means. It’s a whole new lease of life. Signing the register is such a simple thing to do, but can make a massive amount of difference to so many people’s lives.
    Don’t forget if you’re really altruistically inclined, you don’t have to be dead to donate a kidney!! :O)

  2. #2 by skepticarla on April 4, 2011 - 15:24

    Or part of your liver!

  3. #3 by Michael on April 4, 2011 - 19:43

    Hey and I know, I only have one kidney! I had mine removed when I was 20. On the same ward were people who were on kidney machines. Back then it was a long process (8 hours every three days). Today it is less than half the time. Having said this imagine you are 12 years old and this is your routine? What type of childhood would that be, and one will be entering that troublesome teenage era. We all know how tough that is without having to go through something like dialysis as well. When I was in the hospital, there were 8 others on regular dialysis. Four had died by the end of the year (the consultant told me whilst I was back for a check up). Most of the patients were elderly and had other complications but one guy was 25 with two young children. My father-in-law whom passed away last November was also on dialysis (fortunately, for him anyway, it only lasted two months) he died of many other things. Waiting for an organ transplant is equivalent to being on death row, hoping for a reprieve from the Governor. Sorry, this isn’t hyperbole, it just is.
    The ‘Glad to be a donor’ Prof.

  4. #4 by skepticarla on April 4, 2011 - 19:57

    Yup. Having a chronic illness is a terrible thing to deal with at any age. Hope all is ok with your kidney (!) now!

    I was wondering, it’s something I’ve been pondering on for a while now, I post regularly on my facebook page links to stories about organ donation and I often urge my friends to sign up to the donor register, but I often meet with uncomfortable silences, even though people are happy to engage in stories about cute puppies or people falling over.

    This post too has met with very little response from our usually vocal sceptical community. Do you think there is a reason for this, are (even) sceptics squeamish about the thought of their demise and/or bad health?

    On a slightly different note I do think that transplant stories in the news are often given a ‘frankenstein’ slant that often doesn’t help the cause. What do you think?

  5. #5 by Michael on April 4, 2011 - 20:20

    There is still some type of ‘taboo’ associated with taking organs from the dead. The newly released film about the murdering body-snatchers of Edinburgh, Burke and Hare, shocks many. Then there are the weird stories surrounding recipients who retain some of the memories of the dead donors (which is obviously bollocks). Then there are the religious types like Jehovah Witness and Christian Scientists who are dead against it (sic). There needs to be a positive drive towards getting the law reversed so that one would have to ‘opt out’ of organ donation. This would save those awkward moments when after someone’s loved one has passed away the doctor doesn’t have to ask for the relatives to agree to donate the deceased’s spare parts.
    But to be honest, those who have had first hand experience of the need for donation (medical staff) have no qualms about it.
    There needs to be more adverts on the TV and the internet showing very sad stories of children suffering.
    If it was puppies and kittens in need, then people would be killing themselves to donate.

  6. #6 by skepticarla on April 4, 2011 - 20:33

    You are definitely right about the ‘taboo’ part. I have never ‘inherited’ any memories from either of my donors! (Any changes in personality are due to changes in the composition of blood chemistry and the cocktail of toxic immunosuppressants) Unfortunately, although the ‘opt out’ idea is great on paper, and I support it, it doesn’t mean that doctors don’t have to ask the relatives. They must still be consulted before the organs can be taken. The key point that has made ‘opt out’ organ donation work so well in places like Spain is the fact that the scheme has been supported by more staff being trained in how to approach grieving relatives at what is a terrible time for them. If we could do this over here, (without selling off NHSB&T which is being proposed at the moment) then fewer people might not have to spend so much time on godawful dialysis…
    More exposure for this? DEFINITELY!

  7. #7 by Michael on April 5, 2011 - 08:20

    We need the law to state that all deceased patients organs will be removed WITHOUT consultation. Unless the deceased ‘opt out’ before hand, obviously. Hospitals will have BIG SIGNS pointing this out. I have not received any organs, I’ve just lost a few. How has your life changed since the organ transplants? How better is the technology and science today than it was ten years ago? These are the things the people need to know. You know this was on the BBC news this morning (07:38) desperate for donors.

  8. #8 by Martin Poulter on April 6, 2011 - 08:56

    IThis is a moral issue that everyone ought to confront, skeptic or not. To let a stranger die needlessly , just to assert ownership of something that’s useless to you, is both inexcusably selfish and represents a primitive, essentialist kind of thinking.

  9. #9 by skepticarla on April 6, 2011 - 09:46

    Hey Mike,
    Life is so different after a transplant. Of course, not everyone has a positive experience, but when things go well,(which is a very high percentage) they go really well! I no longer have to be on a machine overnight every night for 70 hours a week. I can go on holiday, I am off to the Transplant Games in Belfast this year, starting an MA in September, things I would not have had the energy to do this time last year.
    I take high doses of immunosuppressants, but these have improved in the last 20 years. Still quite toxic, but very effective with slightly fewer side effects. Patients are now able to inject with erythropoietin, a hormone injection that replicates a hormone that the kidneys produce, essential in the production of haemoglobin. 20 years ago when this was not available kidney failure led to low HB that meant just raising your feet to walk was an effort.Science has allowed this to be much less of a problem. I am so grateful to science in giving me my life back. Maybe I’ll write to you about the ‘woo’ advice I’ve been given by practitioners of pseudoscience one day, including a guy who told me that he could make my kidneys ‘grow back’!
    It’s amazing just to live life normally, something other people really take for granted. That’s why I’m so glad you posted this.
    Unfortunately, I’ve already mentioned the squeamish side of the idea of organ donation, death is not spoken of in or society, we expect to live longer and deat is something tht happens behind closed doors, or is dramatised in crime programmes. We fear getting old above everything else, without realisiing that those of us who DO get old are the fortunate ones, living a life to the full extent of science and medicine’s knowledge.

  10. #10 by Michael on April 6, 2011 - 10:43

    Sorry Martin, I don’t understand your point. Could you reiterate? Cheers.

  11. #11 by Michael on April 6, 2011 - 10:48

    Martin. I think I do get your point. My eyes are failing me. I had my retinas photographed on Monday. There must be a problem.

    However I must object to the word ‘Moral’ That word comes out of a set of ‘values’ agreed by a group or society, which may or may not belong to another group or society. So I am always wary of that word.

  12. #12 by Michael on April 6, 2011 - 10:52

    Skepticarla. Unless that person was Craig Ventner, how does one ‘grow back’ a kidney? Unbelievable.

  13. #13 by skepticarla on April 6, 2011 - 11:54

    Mike, lots of vitamin D apparently. ‘The body has the capability of growing back any organ’ was the exact phrase. Apparently if you megadose on vit d your body can ‘regenerate’ like Dr Who! And no, it wasn’t Craig Ventner!

  14. #14 by Michael on April 7, 2011 - 11:42

    Urrgghhhh! Please don’t mention the time traveller from the BBC children’s program then I’ll refrain from mentioning Blue Peter. So humans are a bit like certain lizards or amphibians whom can grow back limbs? Why aren’t these people up for Nobel Prizes? Imagine the savings to the NHS. Instead of years of physiotherapy and medication, just give amputees a bottle of ‘Seven Seas’ multivitamins (£3.99 from all good pharmacies) and throw them out on the street. That should be our next campaign. Get those lazy good-for-nothing amputees out of the hospitals and health care systems and get them to crawl to Holland & Barrett with a fiver crumpled up in their good-for-nothing fist to purchase a economy sized jar of vitamins. I will forward this to the secretary of health as a proposal to save ££££££££s of tax payer’s money. I might even get a knighthood for the suggestion. I’ll just have to ensure I don’t get hit by a bus on the way to the pillar box.

  15. #15 by skepticarla on April 7, 2011 - 12:40

    Yes. Basically humans are like giant axlotls. It’s just that we’re not ‘helping’ ourselves by not buying regular massive doses of vitamins from our nearest non commercial anti big pharma shop that’s not interested in profits at all. “Sorry? How much?!! Well, I suppose you’re right, you can’t put price on health… do you take VISA..?”

  16. #16 by ChineapplePunk on April 7, 2011 - 13:17

    I’m already on the donor list. If anyone’s interested, you may be eligible to sign up as a stem cell donor too, or even donate an umbilical cord through the Anthony Nolan foundation. Here’s the link if anyone wants to read up on it:

  17. #17 by Paul Barton on April 7, 2011 - 20:20

    I’ve been registered for years as a donor.

    One important point you didn’t mention as you have to stress to your family that being an organ donor is pretty much your last wish. Unless things have changed recently I’m sure your next of kin can veto your choice of being an organ donor.

  18. #18 by Johan Strandberg on April 8, 2011 - 00:16

    Yes, I am a selfish bastard (<= I don't care what my spell checker says, that still looks like I just like oysters a lot; which I do… where was I?) …starting over….

    Yes, I am a selfish bastard, that's why I signed up to be an organ donor many years ago. No, that is not contradictory. It is just that I strongly believe in the statistical behavior of large groups. If I, or people I love, are to benefit from organ donations, then I myself must behave in the way I would wish others to behave. I realize that chances are very slim I will be my own organ donor, but if I am willing to donate, then the chances increase by some infinitesimal amount that somebody else will also make that choice.

    For the same reason, I seldom insist on somebody returning a small amount of money I might have lent them, but instead insist that they pay back forward. I.e., give/lend the money to somebody else who needs it more than I do.

    In other words, this is one of the many ways I try to connivence others to come under the influence of the evil secular religion I worship. A religion otherwise only distinguished by a diffuse kindness to fellow humans, a yearn to see things getting better for everybody, and a general belief in the scientific method.

    … but I doubt the IRS will grant me tax exemption on that basis.

  19. #19 by Simon on April 20, 2011 - 21:54

    Hey Mike (and Marsh and Colin), I’ve just registered thanks to your blog. Been meaning to do it for ages. Keep up the good work…

  20. #20 by Nick Smith on May 10, 2011 - 19:48

    Dear all

    Loving the sentiment on this one.

    Can I also remind you all of you who can to think about being blood donors.

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