Column: Swap a kidney, but don’t try to buy one

Anyone want to swap a kidney?Kidney

No, I don’t need one, but Lois Wilson’s husband, Dave, does. The British Columbia woman recently

placed an ad on the classified site Craigslist, seeking another couple to swap kidneys with. Basically, if you need a kidney and Lois’s kidney happens to match yours, and if your partner can spare a kidney that happens to match Dave’s, the kidney swap can take place, as long as the authorities approve and neither kidney files a motion in court.

Thankfully, kidneys can’t hire attorneys — they don’t have enough money — but even so, finding a kidney is a major challenge, almost as difficult as finding a comb in Don King’s house.

That’s why Lois and others are willing to do swaps. It’s officially known as the “live donor paired kidney exchange
program” and is legal in at least two provinces in Canada. The “kidney exchange program” is sort of like the “student exchange program” that everyone is familiar with, except that kidneys stay for an indefinite period and are more hard-working.

Kidneys are extremely important to us. According to Wikipedia, kidneys have numerous roles within our bodies, including “excreting waste products, regulating blood pressure, secreting a variety of hormones and ensuring that the spleen feels totally inadequate.”

Despite their importance, we tend to take our kidneys for granted. We spend more time thinking about our heart, our lungs and, at least three times a day, our stomach. Even when we go to the bathroom, we hardly ever think of our kidneys, unless we’ve had too much to drink and run into the towel rack. “Ouch! My kidney!”

Most of us will never have any kidney trouble, will never have to worry about searching for a replacement.  We can concentrate on replacing other things, such as our hair, our teeth and our “Hillary for President” bumper sticker.

But if we’re unlucky enough to suffer from kidney disease or another serious ailment that requires us to undergo dialysis, we’ll know what Dave Wilson and others have to go through. At first, we might be optimistic, saying to ourselves, “Well, at least I don’t need a heart transplant. Almost everyone has a spare kidney. All I have to do is find someone with a matching kidney and tell them that if they’re kind enough to donate it to me, I won’t post naked pictures of them on the Internet.”

We’ll soon realize, of course, that coercing someone to donate a kidney is illegal. But we won’t lose hope, saying to ourselves, “All I have to do is find someone with a matching kidney and tell them that if they’re kind enough to donate it to me, I’ll give them 50 grand, as well as a BMW and a ‘Hillary for President’ bumper sticker.”

We’ll soon realize, of course, that buying an organ is illegal, unless it happens to play music. The organ trade, thriving in some parts of the world, often results in the exploitation of poor people. But we won’t lose hope, saying to ourselves, “Exploiting a poor person would make me feel really guilty, so maybe I should try something else: exploiting a rich person.”

We’ll soon realize, of course, that rich people aren’t easily exploited. (They might be tempted with a BMW, but only if it stands for Big Mansion in Waikiki.) Besides, it’s illegal too. We wouldn’t want to end up behind bars, even if we can impress all the folks there with our transplant scars. But we won’t lose hope, saying to ourselves, “Maybe I can find someone who will give me a kidney out of the goodness of their heart — or even the goodness of their kidney.”

We’ll soon realize, of course, that while such noble people exist, unless we have a prior relationship with them, we can’t legally have their kidney. No, it goes to the next person on the official waiting list. “Stop cutting in line. Some of us have been waiting seven years,” the person says, giving us a glare and motioning us to the back of the line, which stretches all the way around George Foreman. But we won’t lose hope, saying to ourselves, “Maybe the line will get shorter if more people sign up to be organ donors. Or if George signs up for Weight Watchers.”

We’ll soon realize, of course, that many people are clueless about organ donation. Ask them if they’d like to sign up and they’ll shake their heads, saying to themselves, “All I have is a keyboard.” Others just want to hang onto their organs, even after they’re dead, just in case they need them in the afterlife. But we won’t lose hope, saying to ourselves, “I’m lucky that I have a close-knit family. I’m sure they’d all be willing to visit me in prison.”

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. God gave us two kidneys, so if you donate one, you will have one to take care of you, except when you drink too much beer.
    When God was distributing kidneys, I was last in line. When my turn came, He had only one left. He told me, “Take this kidney, it will work hard for you.” So I have only one kidney. It has done its job well for the last 86 years and promised me that it will be faithful to me till I die.
    If I can live with one kidney for 86 years and longer, you can too. So please donate your one kidney to a poor person, especially one raised by a single mom like Obama. He will thank you.
    (via email)

  2. Why is everything illegal???

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