COMMENTARY | Many feel they pour the clichéd blood, sweat and tears into their jobs, but for one woman in New York, that cliché become a little more concrete. According to the New York Post, Debbie Stevens, 47, donated a kidney for the benefit of her boss, Jackie Brucia, 61. Brucia and Stevens were not an exact match, but Stevens donated a kidney to someone else in the same pool, putting Brucia in a better position for an organ.
Stevens donated her kidney on August 10, 2011, and then reported that she was under pressure to return to work less than a month later, on September 6. And then the story gets interesting.
After alleged demeaning treatment and a demotion, Brucia fired Stevens. Stevens has since filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission, according to the New York Post exclusive.
Giving someone a part of your body is emotional:
* In 2009, Dr. Richard Batista, convinced his wife cheated on him, demanded that she either return the kidney he donated to her or pay him $1.5 million in the couple's divorce proceedings. The court subsequently rejected Batista's demands.
* Even receiving a body part carries an emotional weight. Ryan Arnold was healthy when he gave a live liver donation to his brother, Chad, but Ryan subsequently died from complications. Ryan's death left Chad full of guilt.
Regularly, science makes the impossible mundane. That evolution breeds intricately complicated relationships and invisible pressures, and suddenly we're asking questions we never thought would need asking.
Should the law allow a boss to ask an employee for something as staggering as an organ? As with any relationship based in a power dynamic, the request alone feels like it holds implications: Donate an organ or you don't have a job. And what about job security once the organ has been donated? While the legality of Stevens' firing is layered, the morality seems far more clear. Then again, should donating an organ to your boss grant an employee blanket job security?
Isn't it better to avoid the question in the first place?
Organ recipients are simply people, and pretty ill people at that. Maybe it's reasonable, staring straight at the reality of organ failure, to take whatever steps you can to ensure your survival. Consider Dick Cheney's recent heart transplant after years living with a ventricular assist device (VAD), a relatively bulky hindrance with an external battery. Cheney had the opportunity to get a new heart, and he took it, age 71 or not.
When relatives, fearing the loss of a loved one, offer up their own flesh, can they really understand that this gift is a gift that must come without strings? Dr. Richard Batista might have felt magnanimous about giving his wife a kidney in the better days of their marriage, but he seemed to feel much less generous years later. As Batista and Stevens learned, it's the kind of gift that doesn't come with a receipt.
The law is a cumbersome, slow-moving beast, and with 113,990 people currently waiting for organs and 18 people dying per day while waiting, further ethical restrictions on who can donate organs to whom feels a little bit like a cruel exercise in philosophy. Yet we cannot allow science to proceed without ethics, without rules, without boundaries. There will be more of these cases as organ transplants become increasingly routine, and like it or not, there are questions we must ask.
And now, thanks to Steven's case, we have a good place to start.