Weighing the Risks
anonymous Asks ...
I am in a bad position where I have been asked to consider being a possible kidney donor for a cousin who is an alcoholic. It is still in the early stages so it is not for sure that a transplant is going to be needed. I could do it. I grew up with this person and I would like to help. I am not sure, however that I can live with the situation where I give my kidney and then she continues to drink anyway and it was all for nothing. On the other side of the fence. I do not know if I can live in this family as the person who says no. And everyone knows that I said no and it feels like I am almost a murderer. I am getting ahead of myself since I am not 100% that I will be required to do this. But I am not sure how to get my head straight around what I should do. My cousin has been an alcoholic for 15 years. She has been to rehab twice. She is very ill now and she swears she has had her last drink but I am not sure she is able to control her disease.
Florence Cameron Says ...
I'm flattered that you think I'm capable of helping you in this dilemma. It appears that you have strong beliefs about the value of family and the responsibilities of each family member. I would like you to challenge some of these beliefs. Where does the belief that, "You cannot live in a family as a person who says no" to a member of the family that is actively engaging in behavior that continues to destroy her organs. After 15 years of continuous alcohol abuse the body begins braking down. This physical decline is the culmination of all the drinking your cousin has consumed since the initiation of her disease. Just like it's not the sunburn you got yesterday that causes melanoma but the culmination of all the sun exposure since birth. Unfortunately the organs are not forgiving. If your cousin is drinking now it is highly likely that she will continue to drink after the surgery. Your cousin has probably been told that if she continues to drink, it would take her life, yet she continues to drink. Alcoholism is a very selfish disease, and the only disease that not only affects the person but the whole family.
The dying process starts at birth. If this fact was talked about more often perhaps people would take better care of themselves. Understanding that whatever we do in-between that has deleterious affects on our body and brain accelerates the dying process. Our bodies are so fragile and people take better care of their cars then they do their body.
Before the airplane takes off the stewardess usually covers safety skills. One safety skill that is pronounced, is putting the oxygen mask on you first before you help anyone else. It is always risky for anyone to undergo surgery, which is why insurance companies do not cover elective surgeries. There are no guarantees with anything. The best that we can do is use the factual information before us to make clear and concise decisions. Alcoholism has been seen by some as passive suicide. Reason tells us that alcohol is toxic and our bodies cannot survive on a diet of toxins. In the field of psychology we understand that the only way to predict future behavior is from past behavior.
I cannot help you with this decision as it is one that you have to make yourself, knowing the risks involved. Like you said, you do not know if this will actually materialize and to worry needlessly isn't fruitful. Your cousin has the disease of addiction, which is incurable and can only be maintained at best, on a day-to-day basis, and from your account she is currently drinking. In making this decision you may want to think about your intentions. You mentioned that if you were to give your kidney and she continue to use, you may feel you given a kidney in vain. When we give someone a gift, after all, we should give from a place of love, not expecting anything in return, free of expectations.
If you cannot give your kidney free of expectations and let go of the real possibility that your cousin will continue to drink you probably should think hard before you become her donor. This is a tough decision and I challenge your thinking on what it means to be a member of a family that respects the self and takes care of their selves. As you've discovered, some family members may not hold the same beliefs about self-care, as a responsibility of being a family member.
Not knowing much about you; if you have family or children and your responsibility in that family unit. Weighing the risks of this endeavor is worth seeing a professional for. Please utilize your resources and do your research in order to make the wisest choices concerning your health.
Jeannie Cameron, LMHC