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Mindful : August 2019
surgery, and that they’re not being paid to give up their organs (which is illegal in almost every country). But as the number of unrelated would-be living kidney donors rose from 6.5% of the total in 1996 to roughly 23% today, transplant centers got worried. Why were people with neither a bio- logic nor emotional relationship with a recipient stepping up like this? Surgeons arg ue they need psy- chological evaluation of prospec- tive donors, because living kidney donation “caused concern” about “donor psychological status and The Science of Selflessness Why do some people put their lives at risk for the sake of strangers? Research is uncovering the traits that lead to extreme altruism. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sharon Begley is senior science writer with STAT, a national health and medicine publication. She is also author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and most recently Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions (2017, Simon & Schuster). motivation.” Be on the lookout, they warn, for “past or ongoing psychi- atric symptoms or disorders” and for “ulterior motives,” such as “to atone or gain approval, to stabilize self-image, or to remedy psychologi- cal malady.” Great Britain considered such altruism so pathological that living kidney donation was illegal there until 2006. “Altruistic reasons for stranger donation are acceptable,” said Harvey Mysel, president of the Living Kidney Donors Network. “ But transplant centers want to be sure of the → To get a sense of how the world views extraordinary altruism, con- sider what you go through if you want to donate a kidney to a stranger. Naturally, transplant centers demand rigorous screening to be sure donors are healthy enough to undergo WHILE EMPATHY IS NECESSARY, THE RESEARCH SHOWS IT IS FAR FROM SUFFICIENT. 32 mindful August 2019 By Sharon Begley • Illustrations by Edmon de Haro brain science