9:30am

Sun May 15, 2011
Commentary

God Bless Everybody

As the old saying goes “It is better to give than to receive.” But the “giving” part can take on many forms. KUNC commentator Dr. Marc Ringel has found a way of paying it forward that could have immeasurable results where the medical world is concerned.

Compassion is a cornerstone of nearly every ethical, religious and spiritual discipline.  Certain Buddhist sects promote development of compassion with a meditation called tonglen, which guides the mediator to envision a series of living beings while summoning mental images that amount to wishing them peace and happiness.

When you do tonglen you start out with creatures you already have a soft spot for, like a favorite pet or a grandmother who loves you unconditionally.  Then you move on to friends, co-workers and family you get along with; then to folks you are indifferent to and strangers.

As you become more adept, you meditate on people who make you uncomfortable, such as rivals at work or manipulative family members.  With a lot of practice you may achieve the ultimate object of this exercise, which is to manifest compassion for all living beings, even for those who actively persecute you.  As the bumper sticker says, “God Bless Everybody.  No Exceptions.”

One chapter in a book by Marc Barasch entitled Field Notes on the Compassionate Life really captivated me.  It’s about kidney donors who are completely unrelated to and unknown by the patients who receive their vital organ.  These people donate one of their two kidneys in order to give someone else a shot at a healthier life, simply because it’s the right thing to do for a fellow human.

In terms of tonglen, doing such a deeply compassionate act for someone you don’t even know falls well along the pathway toward enlightenment.

A few years ago I was so inspired by the stories in Barasch’s book, as well as by the plight of a co-worker who needed a new kidney, that I sought to get my tissue typed and posted on a potential donors list.  I didn’t know if I’d have actually gone through with giving up 50% of my kidney function for the benefit of a perfect stranger, but I was sure I would at least part with some tablespoons of life-giving bone marrow to a compatible recipient, with leukemia for example.

I never did get my marrow typed because the blood bank where I regularly donate didn’t offer this service and I didn’t try hard enough to locate somewhere else to get tested.

I did just stumble on another way to exercise my compassion for people unknown, though.  It’s called ResearchMatch, an organization funded by the National Institutes of Health that recruits subjects for medical studies.

Signing up takes ten minutes on their website researchmatch.org. You can list your age, sex, ethnicity, and how far you’d be willing to travel to participate in a study.  If you wish, you can fill in your height, weight, medical diagnoses, and medications.  Everything is strictly optional and confidential.

If a medical researcher asks ResearchMatch to help recruit subjects for a project, the organization will email everybody in their database who might qualify, including “normals” to serve as control subjects.  Then it’s completely up to each potential participant to respond or not, no questions asked.

Being in a medical study may demand as little as filling out a questionnaire or having your blood drawn.  Sometimes there’s a small stipend for participants.  But the primary reward for volunteering is the psychic one that comes with any selfless act.

Certainly donating a little time or blood in the name of advancing medical science is a far lesser sacrifice than having a kidney surgically removed for the sake of an anonymous recipient.  Still, ResearchMatch is a way to take at least a small step toward making “God Bless Everybody” more than a bumper sticker.

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