Monday, December 13, 2010

On altruism and organ donation

This weekend, the Toronto Star ran a remarkable story about a man who gave an anonymous liver transplant. You can read it here, along with an accompanying video.

By some metrics, this is an act of near pure altruism. This man gives something of himself to save someone else, without any material benefit. Ah, but you say, he receives the benefit of the admiration of his neighbours, his colleagues, and most certainly his wife, with whom he made the decision to give. But once reading the story, one gets the sense that he made the decision to give long before this admiration was due to him. Indeed, it was only after deciding to give and booking in for the procedure that he explained it to his colleagues and friends.

Perhaps he anticipated their praise and admiration, and this compelled him to give. But, there is an equally plausible story in which he felt some urge or impulse to do this act, quite apart from the expected praise. He felt a warm glow. This glow is merely prolonged by the admiration of others. There is, perhaps, a more purely altruistic mechanism at work here than a cynical account would suggest.

That's up for readers to decide, I guess. Either way, it's inspiring stuff.

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