Living Organ Donation and the Costly Gift of Love


It’s December. We’re thinking about giving gifts. Sometimes it’s as easy as a few clicks online. What would cause you to give a truly costly gift, one that could save someone’s life? That’s the gift of being a living organ donor.

In the US, there are about ten people who need an organ for every organ that is donated. Last year, 7,000 patients died waiting for a transplant. Many donated organs come from people who have died, but volunteered to become organ donors before their death.

However, you don’t have to die to become a donor. Living donors can give one kidney, one of the two sections of their liver, one of their lungs, or a part of their lung, pancreas, or even their intestines. The screening process is rigorous for both physical and psychological fitness. You have to be healthy to donate, and donors usually do well after donation. The donor’s remaining organ is able to function normally and is usually able to compensate for the missing, donated part. Every year, about 6,000 people donate an organ or part of an organ to someone in need.

In many cases, living donors are family members or close friends of the person in need of a transplant. But with the explosion of social media, potential donors and recipients are connecting in creative ways. This gift to a stranger can be a beautiful and powerful example of following in Christ’s way of love, of putting someone else’s need above your own.

Organ donation, however, is not easy. It involves major surgery, with significant medical risks and no physical benefit to the donor. We don’t know about the long term effects of donating body parts.

Another risk is that the donor may lose insurance coverage, or see their premiums go up. This problem may be fixed by the Affordable Care Act provisions for “pre-existing conditions” that go into effect in 2014.

Organ donation may not “feel” like a gift. Family members might urge us to donate to a loved one, or even use emotional coercion. The American Society of Transplantation recommends that the transplant team refuse any organ donation that has been coerced.[1]

If you donate, make your decision carefully and not driven by emotion. Make sure you work with a hospital that has a donor advocate, someone who will be watching out for you if complications arise. I hope you’re inspired by Jeff Moyer. Despite chronic pain after donating a kidney, he says, “It’s among the most important things I have ever done in my life. And I would do it again.”[2]

This Christmas season we think about the Baby who is God’s gift to redeem us from death. It cost him everything. What led God to send his son? And what would lead you to give an organ? The answer that makes the most sense is profound, sacrificial love.


[1] American Society of Transplantation, “AST Position Statement on Directed and Non-Directed Donation,” (April 13, 2009)

[2] Gretchen Kruda-Coen, “Organ Donation Has Some Consequences Donors Aren’t Prepared For,” NPR Morning Edition, July 2, 2012.


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