Atheist Donates Kidney to a Complete Stranger: ‘It Was Something I Just Had To Do’

Kate Clarkson from Northumberland (in North East England) is a Humanist and did something worthy of that word: She donated a kidney to a complete stranger:

Kate Clarkson (via Evening Chronicle)

In October 2010, the humanist celebrant, who has performed weddings and funerals for 20 years, was asked to speak at a commemoration service for transplant patients and their families.

“I’ve been a nurse for 40 years and I thought I was hardened to these sorts of things, but this service was the most heart-rending experience that I’ve ever had,” said Mrs Clarkson, a health visitor with County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

“Listening to those people who had lost relatives or who were waiting for organs to save their lives was unbelievably moving.

“I had been reading about becoming a living donor and I was so moved that day that I decided if I could help, I would. I just thought ‘I’ve got a spare kidney that I don’t even need and people are dying every single day waiting for one.’ So if it was possible, I was going to do it.”

She doesn’t know the identity of the man who just received one of her kidneys — and whose life she just saved — but he thanked her by making a donation to a charity of her choosing.

Clarkson is encouraging everyone to become organ donors. I’m proud to say I am on that list in my state (though I’m not a “living donor” right now):

Mrs Clarkson said: “Becoming a living donor is not for everyone. I wouldn’t pressure anyone into it, but if you are thinking about it, go ahead, and I honestly don’t feel any different.

“I can’t think of any justification at all for not donating your organs when you are dead and it’s so easy to do.”

She is absolutely right. As atheists, we know better than to believe in an afterlife. You won’t need your organs after you die, so leave them for other people so that they may lead longer, healthier lives. There’s no good reason not to do it — unless you’re donating your entire body elsewhere — and it’s a kind, generous, and easy way to show your Humanism.

We’re all connected through evolution and giving someone else a body part you no longer need is just one of the benefits of that fact.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Jeff Akston

    This is a great thing, and my comment topic isn’t really related to being an “atheist”, so I digress…

    At least for kidneys, if you want to eliminate about 100k deaths a year from various types of renal failure, and address the roughly 500k people a year who are in various levels of kidney treatment…you make it legal to sell organs.

    I have two fine kidneys.  I don’t need them both.  But I’m keeping them in case anything goes wrong, because there is no way I can get one if I get sick.  But if I knew there would be a marketplace for me to buy another kidney if one of mine goes sour, I could sell one of mine right now, save a life, and make money.

    As it is, in this story, the lady who gave up the most (her healthy kidney) is the only one who got nothing tangible for it (she saved a life, the doctor surely got paid.  The hospital, the anesthesiologist, the medical devices company-everyone but her, benefited.

    The only reason it’s not legal to donate kidneys (or hell, even lungs or eyes) is some archaic knowledge of the body being God’s sacred gift (or some equally foolish notion that we need to save people from themselves because some fool would sell a kidney and then blow the money and not be able to buy one back if they got sick).

    • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

      Your second issue is kind of a concern, though. We’re in a recession because dishonest lenders sold people loans they couldn’t pay off, and then packaged those loans into securities that they sold to other people. I’d really rather not give the rich another method with which to exploit the poor.

      • Jeff Akston

        That’s not why we are in a recession.  And also, that’s not what happened.

        But, cool.  Let’s let 100,000 people needlessly die because you are afraid that the poor will get exploited by the rich.

        Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the health of actual humans dealing with life and death RIGHT NOW than the hypothetical poor who may or may not get screwed at some point in the future?

        • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

          1 – Actually, those were major causes of the crisis that led to the recession.

          “In addition to considering higher-risk borrowers, lenders had offered increasingly risky loan options and borrowing incentives. In 2005, the median down payment for first-time home buyers was 2%, with 43% of those buyers making no down payment whatsoever.[88] By comparison, China has down payment requirements that exceed 20%, with higher amounts for non-primary residences.[89]”

          “A riskier version of securitization also developed in which private banks pooled non-conforming mortgages and generally did not guarantee the bonds against default of the underlying mortgages.[1]In other words, GSE securitization transferred only interest rate risk to investors, whereas private label (investment bank or commercial bank) securitization transferred both interest rate risk and default risk.[1]”

          from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subprime_mortgage_crisis#Causes

          2 – In the absence of incredibly strong government controls of organ sales, including price minimums for sellers, businesses will arise to take advantage of this new markets, and prices will fall. In the end, organ sellers will get the smallest possible payment for their organs, because the goal of most businesses is to make the most money and keep costs as low as possible. The organs would also likely go to those who can pay the most for them – again, if you’re a business, why not? 

          If there was an incredibly potent regulatory agency that kept everyone honest and paying good sums for their organs, I would feel better about this idea. I see incredible potential for exploitation, though. I sympathize with the 100k, but I don’t want to create new problems while we look for solutions.

          What do you think would be good systems/rules to put in place to ensure that organ sales are safe and financially reasonable at all times?

          • Jeff Akston

            I don’t need the totally unbiased editors of wikipedia to understand what happened.  Idiots putting down no money on houses, and then taking equity out of their houses to spend more on cars and tvs instead of saving has nothing to do with “predatory” practices.  It has to do with people being ignorant idiots.  That should be no surprise when like 40% of Americans believe in the Bible word for word. 

            You are working on the assumption that extensive government controls make things safer and more equitable.  That is a false assumption in my mind.  Sure, there would need to be safety controls, but if you are working from a base that the government would need to dictate prices, you are working from a completely different set of rules than I would be.  I think you are also assuming things that won’t happen.  With a market, you won’t have to worry about someone selling a kidney for $1MM to the person who will die tomorrow, because there will be multiple potential sellers who will take less and these transplants can occur at the first sight of potential problem rather than waiting as a last ditch effort, like people have to do now.

            The fact is, 100k people a year are dying.  They are dying because people aren’t donating kidneys like this lady.  They aren’t donating organs, not because they suck as humans, but because they know if one of their kidneys goes bad, they can’t get one. 

            I think it is immoral to place the right of some hypothetical poor person not to get swindled out of his organ in some way by some conniving Wall St. fat cat ahead of the actual, real, 100,000 people dying every year because they can’t get a kidney.

            • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

               Why do you care about one group who suffers, but not another?

              • Jeff Akston

                Because one is actual and one is hypothetical. Deal with the hypothetical if it happens. If that is your only reason to prevent a kidney market, it is shortsighted

                • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

                  Come to think of it, you never refuted my point about the cause of the crisis. Kindly provide some better sources, if you’re going to talk facts.

                  And secondly, not what I meant. I was asking why you care about people suffering from kidney failure, while not caring about the poor and uneducated. What ethical framework do you operate under?

                  Also, you’re totally misreading my concern. My concern is for the factory worker in Arkansas who’ll only get paid $50 for a kidney, because the prices have raced to the bottom. He or she is the most likely to be exploited in a new organ market.

                  The free market does not lead to everyone’s best good. It has,
                  historically, led to monopolies, company towns and awful, awful
                  exploitation. Like religion, conservative/libertarian economic theory
                  doesn’t last very long once you think about it.

                  What exactly are you expecting would keep these sales sane and nonexploitative, if not regulations? Surely not profit-oriented corporations, right? We had to twist their arm before they started selling us safe(r) meat.

                • Jeff Akston

                  well the factory worker wouldn’t sell his kidney for $50, now would he?  That would be foolish.  He would just keep it.  

                  Second, explaining how a 10 year long double bottom recession happened isn’t something that can be explained in the comments field.    Let’s not try to be Fox News or MSNBC and explain every situation within the 2 sentence construct of “the people I don’t like did something bad”.

                  I never said I was against regulation.  In fact, I said the opposite.   Obviously there would need to be regulations just every other industry is regulated – why you are closing your mind to the possibility of an organ market because you fear that somehow this one industry would be totally unregulated doesn’t make sense.  Of course it would be regulated.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

       You wrote: “As it is, in this story, the lady who gave up the most (her healthy
      kidney) is the only one who got nothing tangible for it (she saved a
      life, the doctor surely got paid.  The hospital, the anesthesiologist,
      the medical devices company-everyone but her, benefited.”
      well, she is in the UK, so, yes, people got paid, but it would have been done under the National Health Service. So no real profit there. And you left out the person who benefitted most, the recipient. She (the donor) may not have got anything tangible from it, and your very tone suggests that you think this is the only sort of thing that is worthwhile. I hope I am wrong, if I am not I feel sorry for you and people with whom you interact.
      (Side note, we use “anaesthetist” in Britain to show that the person is a practitioner not just a student)

      You also wrote: “The only reason it’s not legal to donate kidneys (or hell, even lungs
      or eyes) is some archaic knowledge of the body being God’s sacred gift
      (or some equally foolish notion that we need to save people from
      themselves because some fool would sell a kidney and then blow the money
      and not be able to buy one back if they got sick).”
      I think you mean sell, not donate. I have a lot more sympathy with the second reason you give than the first. The second is real, the first is not.

      • Jeff Akston

        Look down at me all you want as if I am some heartless outlier.  And if so, when did you donate your kidney?  Why are stories like this and the libertarian Victoria Postrel (who stridently advocates a kidney market) who donated kidneys even worthy news stories?  The same reason why do 100k people die every year.  Because it’s so uncommon.  Most people (and I’d guess you are in this population) are not willing to just give up their kidneys because they know that they can’t replace it with relative easy. 

        Introducing a market would fix that.

        And no, the second notion is just as archaic as the first.  You putting the hypothetical safety of someone who MAY sell their kidney and MAY waste/spend their money and MAY then at some point in the future have their only kidney fail over the actual, real lives that are being extinguished right now because they can’t get kidneys is pretty foolish.

        • Marco Conti

          While I don’t entirely disagree about a donor’s market, I disagree with the libertarian utopia of a self regulating marketplace. Above all, the government would need to make sure that no brokers could take a cut or that that cut was heavily regulated. Additionally, with the piss poor, private insurance based health care system we have in the US, who is going to take care of the donor should things go south?

          I did gt a transplant about 10 years ago. mine was liver and while it’s possible to be a live liver donor, I would seriously discourage anyone from doing it.
          When I was waiting for my organ, many relatives offered, but I was aware of the failure rate and I decided I was not going to be part of it. Even if it meant I would jot get an transplant.

          One other thing that can be done would be to establish a “opt out” donor system. In my version, those that opt out would also relinquish any claim on an organ should they turn out to need one later in life, but aside from that, it would make many more organs available, without anyone healthy needing to sell a kidney. 

          • Kateclarkson

            I believe that in the UK the idea of selling body parts would be considered distasteful. We donate blood without payment, and I think organs should also be donated without reward. I can imagine a scenario where unscrupulous people sell their granny’s body for parts – asset stripping at its worst! 
            Only the poor would sell their organs and I speculate only the rich could afford to buy them. Sounds like exploitation to me…..

      • Kate Clarkson

        In the UK the NHS pays doctors, nurses, etc regardless of the type of operation they are working on. They are paid for the sessions they work so if they hadn’t been removing my kidney they would have been doing something else just as important. The only people who gain are the recipient (obviously) and the English population as a whole as each transplanted kidney is thought to save the NHS £250,000 over 10 years as there is no need for dialysis etc afterwards.
        Obviously the motivation is not financial for any one involved. It is simply having the opportunity to save a life, and not walking away from that opportunity. 

  • kagekiri

    Hmm, I’m not really sure why a Christian wouldn’t donate their body to save lives once they’re dead.
    I know I wanted to be a donor when I was still a fundie, as I believed God would be giving everyone a new body in heaven anyway, so it’s not like I’d need my organs because otherwise I’d be missing them after resurrection…

    You know, it’s funny how utterly silly my past religious thinking reads when I try to describe it now in writing.

    • Sara Gwin

      My fundie family thinks it is important to be buried with all our body parts intact. If I died now, I doubt that my parents would follow my wishes to cremate me. (It’s apparently awful that I’m a registered organ donor.) Some literally believe our dead bodies will be resurrected and sent to heaven during the rapture, and others are unsure (it may just be our “soul”), but think we should save our bodies just in case. 

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        When I put the sticker on my DL in British Columbia in the late 80s, I asked who wouldn’t put it on.  The DMV person said Asians very often don’t, for religious reasons.

        I wonder what the ‘full body rapture’ types think about car crash victims.

      • Glasofruix

         Yeah about that, burrying corpses for conservation purposes might be a bad idea.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    You’re also on the bone marrow registry, right? 
    http://marrow.org/Home.aspx

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I am! Awaiting a phone call from them…

  • Glasofruix

    Uh, i personnaly prefer to keep my organs inside me for myself or family, but i don’t really intend to keep them after i’m dead.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    I just thought ‘I’ve got a spare kidney that I don’t even need and people are dying every single day waiting for one.’

    Um… it’s not like one of our kidneys is vestigial or anything. I wouldn’t call it “spare” and it’s certainly not something we “don’t even need”. By that logic, one of our legs could be considered a “spare” and something we “don’t even need”. We have crutches and wheelchairs, after all. And prosthetics.

    All that aside, kudos to her for doing something brave like this and helping out another fellow human being. :)

    • Kate Clarkson

      My kidney was “spare” in the sense that my body functions as well without it as it did before – if I had donated a leg I would certainly have been worse off. My remaining kidney has almost doubled in size to cope with the extra work. The kidney is the only organ where you do have a spare. I’m absolutely delighted that the recipient – whoever he is – is doing well and can now lead a normal life. I hope he makes the most of every day and is good to those who love him, and does all the things he thought he’s never get a chance to do.

      • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

        You have a point. I certainly don’t know enough about biology in order to really say for certain whether one can be called a “spare” or not, but if you are healthy and your kidney is faring quite well (which it seems to be, super-sizing aside), then I’ll gladly agree with you. :)

  • Travis Morgan

    I am not fond of headlines that basically read, “Atheists are good and moral people too, look what we did now!” While I am for the act, I am against advertising it. It makes it look like we are only good and moral just to make the point, instead of because we are good and moral naturally. Continue on with with actions considered “good” but I think it may be counterproductive to advertise the act everytime an atheist does something morally noteworthy. Do good things, and don’t tell anyone. Than, you can be certain you are not doing it just to prove the point.

    • Baby_Raptor

      *Then. “Than” is for comparisons. 

      Also, things like this NEED to be talked about. Look at the common opinion of Atheists. It’s not very high. When we point out stuff like this, it proves those stereotypes wrong. 

    • Buffy2q

       Considering how many people run around preaching that atheists don’t do anything good, and that only religious people help others, I think we need to have more of these stories getting out.

    • Kate Clarkson

      Hi

      I donated the kidney without any expectation of publicity. What happened was that the NHS Trust I worked for asked if I would be willing to gent involved with National Transplant week to encourage folk to sign up to be donors after death. I agreed. They, not me, put out a press release and to my astonishment, it was picked up by radio, TV and the press. There was never any question of proving a point. The relevance of being a humanist was simply that it was because I am a Humanist I was asked to speak at the service of remembrance. Had I not been asked to speak there I wouldn’t have needed up being a donor. I think your assumption that this whole thing was a strategy to make Humanists look good is a poor reflection on you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Bayin3 Ryne Smith

    I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. Thanks for reminding me. It’s a great way to help someone out with only a bit of inconvenience. I’ll be signing up ASAP.

  • Buffy2q

    “I can’t think of any justification at all for not donating your organs when you are dead and it’s so easy to do.”

    I agree, which is why I signed up to be an organ donor many years ago.

  • Marco Conti

    I received a transplant almost 10 years ago. My donor was a young guy that had come to my hometown to skydive from Vancouver B.C. 
    I am not even supposed to know this, but right before surgery I heard the nurses talk and I learned that my donor was Canadian and a skydiver. Once I was well enough to search Google, I immediately found all the articles related to his death.
    How many Canadian skydivers die in my town anyway? It was easy to find.

    One of the things I learned in reading the articles was that him and his family were very possibly humanists. I deduced that by the fact that not once they mentioned god or the supernatural in the many interviews they gave to the papers. How many Christians would have resisted mentioning god’s grace in such a situation?

    The other thing I learned was that my donor was lucid for much of his last hours. He was aware that he was not going to make it and he actually gave permission himself for the organ harvesting. 

    That screwed with my mind for a long time and I was torn between my admiration for this young man and sadness for his loss, all the while his organ was working inside me.
    I suffered from depression for a long time after surgery and part of it was that I didn’t feel worthy of such a heroic gesture. 

    I finally decided that he gave me the ultimate gift and the least I can do for him would be to enjoy my life and take care of my body.

  • Sinfanti

    If you are inspired by the story, but a kidney is a bit much for you, consider giving blood.

  • Sharon Crawford

    Sign up to be a bone marrow donor too — if you haven’t already. I was on the list for many years but never called. I’m too common — northern European ancestors.  But for people of Asian, African, or mixed ethnicity, donors are hard to find once you’ve exhausted your immediate family.
    Now I’m too old to donate anything except my corneas and the entire body to a medical school.  I have read about several people who have donated kidneys to strangers. None of them appear to have been religious.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I don’t think it’s that you’re too common.  It’s that an exact match is just extremely rare.  Some are harder, but it’s not like northern European people who need a transplant have a ton of potential donors to pick from.  I think the odds of finding a match if you need one are 1:50,000, and the odds of being matched as a donor are also extremely slim.

      Everyone needs to sign up.

    • RosieY

      I’ve actually donated bone marrow 5 times! Apparently I’m not a carrier of some trait that 70% of people carry, which makes my marrow hot shit. :)

  • adrian muhrer

    wow
     being a bit cynical as wel as a skeptic, i am often surprised by actions like this.  i have useless kidneys as welll – been on dialysis for almost 2 years.  A guy at work (who i had only known for 6+ months came up to me and offered, well, offered me one of his kidneys.  I was gobsmacked to say the least. how to go up several notches in respect and admiration with just one comment. He was also an atheist as it happens.
    I did refuse his kidney, cos i don’t feel comfortable taking something like that from a living human being, but i was pretty overwhelmed by his offer

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I assume it’s not as simple as just taking any old kidney, no?  Doesn’t it have to be at reasonable match?  Or is blood type enough?

      • Sharon Crawford

        There are now occasional “chains” of donors. I want to give a kidney to A but we’re not a match. So I give my kidney to D and D’s donor (not a match) gives a kidney to C whose donor (not a match for C) gives a kidney to A.
        As you can imagine, these are complicated processes but efforts have to be made because of the shortage of kidneys.
        There are many markers that a donor kidney has to match. I no longer remember the number but the ideal is a perfect match for all markers, however they’re willing to try if one marker is off but the others match. A good description is at http://www.utmb.edu/renaltx/process.htm

  • CanadianNihilist

    I  intend to keep my organs after I’m dead. I will probably need them for my Vampiric rise. I’m not sure If I’ll need them but better safe then sorry.