Sunday, April 10, 2011

Donor Registries and Evangelism

Recently, I read the story of Mia Stoutenborough, a beautiful 17-year-old who suffers from aplastic anemia. Anti-seizure medication likely contributed to her contraction of the disease. A bone marrow transplant could save her life.

I read the article as if it were just another human interest story until I came to the following:
Because of her deficient blood cell counts, Mia was forced to leave high school and was homeschooled for her sophomore and junior years.

The usually active girl, who was involved in water polo, snowboarding, surfing, swimming and dirt-bike riding, could often not muster the strength to walk up the stairs of her house.

Mia's low white blood cell counts made her susceptible to infections, so she was rarely allowed to leave the house, and if she did, she had to wear a surgical mask.

Her parents, Doug and Candy , found a doctor at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin who was experienced in bone marrow transplants for aplastic anemia patients. After being told Mia had five matches off of the European donor registry, her family was preparing to move to Wisconsin so Mia could have the transplant and post-transplant care.

One of the donors ended up not being a perfect match and three others were unavailable, leaving Mia with one possible donor who ended up being a perfect match.

When the woman was called, she declined to help and asked not to be contacted again.

"I thought it was like the end of the world. I was just really crushed because I didn't think I'd get better any other way," Mia said.

This is one of the most devastating scenarios for patients, says Kendall, and it's why potential donors need to be committed to helping anyone when they join the registry. Those who join are on the list until their 61st birthday or until they remove themselves.

"It is something you have to be committed to because if you decide you are not willing to help once you're called, you've offered a lot of false hope to a patient who is searching," Kendall said.

Donating bone marrow is relatively safe and routine, the biggest risk being related to the anesthesia, says Kendall.
When the woman was called, she declined to help and asked not to be contacted again.

Did you react as I did when you read that the woman who was a perfect match for Mia refused to help? Did you become angry? Were you shocked? Appalled? Disgusted?

Now, you might want to rush to the woman's aid by offering up some plausible, understandable reasons why the woman would refuse to offer Mia the gift of life. Maybe she is ill herself and is no longer in a stable medical condition that would allow her to help Mia. Maybe the woman is under some other kind of emotional or physical duress that prevented her from helping Mia. Is it possible? Certainly. But let us, for the purpose of this article, draw a conclusion based solely on the information the article provides.

The woman simply did not want to be bothered. She had the ability to help but, for reasons known only to her, the woman simply no longer wanted to help. Mia's life and death struggle was no longer a compelling-enough reason for the woman to undergo a procedure, with minimal risk to herself--a procedure that could very well save Mia's life.

Two words come to mind: "depraved indifference." The legal definition of "depraved indifference" is that a person's "conduct must be 'so wanton, so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so lacking in regard for the life or lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes a crime. Depraved indifference focuses on the risk created by the defendant’s conduct, not the injuries actually resulting."

While in this specific case the woman in question will not be held civilly or criminally liable for her decision not to help Mia, it certainly can be argued that the woman is morally liable for her decision.

Now, to my Christian readers, I want you to hold on to your feelings toward the woman who had the present ability to help Mia, to possibly save her life, yet refused. I want you to hold on to those feelings as I ask you to consider the following question.

Are you like the woman who refused to help Mia?

The woman's name was placed on a relatively small registry of names. Far more people are not on the registry than are on the registry. With placement on the donor registry comes a great deal of responsibility and commitment--a responsibility and commitment she neglected to her shame.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, your name has been written in the Book of Life. The list of those whose names are written in the Book of Life is far shorter than the list of names of those who will spend eternity in Hell (Matthew 7:13-14). With the gift of salvation comes the commitment and the genuine desire on the part of the believer to obey the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:28-34; see also John 14:23-24) and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15).

To claim to be a Christian--to believe that one's name is written in the Book of Life--while at the same time, with depraved indifference toward the lost, refusing to share the gospel with those who need to hear it, is to be no different than the woman who claimed to be a committed member of the donor registry while at the same time, with depraved indifference, refusing to give Mia the help she so desperately needs.

Sadly, I hazard a guess that there will be Christians who read this who will now be more motivated to join a donor registry (a good and noble thing to do) than to share the gospel with the lost. They will be more eager to prolong someone's physical life with little care about the eternal life of those who are lost in their sin and bound for Hell. They wouldn't think of letting a person physically die if there was something they could do to keep that from happening; but they won't give a second thought to letting someone dying an eternal, spiritual death. And their reason for doing so will be no better than the woman who made the conscious decision to refuse to help Mia. "I just can't be bothered."

Too harsh? There is a good way to get over it; and it's not sitting around sulking about the apparent harshness of my words. The best way to get over it is to repent and share the gospel with the lost. Stop living as a hypocrite--insisting your name is written in the Book of Life while intentionally shirking the God-given evangelistic responsibilities that come with the reception of the gift of eternal life.

If you had the ability to help Mia fight the physical fight of her life, would you? I'm sure you would. And sharing the gospel with the lost? Should not your answer to that question be every bit as emphatic, compassionate, and committed? You know you should.