Friday, 21 January 2011

The true nature of altruism

Altruism is defined as a selfless concern for others welfare.
 Pure altruism is giving without regard to reward or the benefits of recognition and need.

How many times do we do things in our daily lives, which directly benefit others, at no cost to ourselves? Is altruism different to common courtesy, politeness and a general sense of compassion towards others? If we give money to help victims of natural disasters, or the starving in the developing world, is that an altruistic gesture, or do we do it to assuage our guilt, at the sneaky little voice at the back of our mid that says thank god it wasn't me? Every day we do little things that we don't need to do, to help out other people, such as letting someone into the traffic ahead of you...but then we get irritated if someone doesnt acknowledge it, or do the same for you.

There are, i think genuinely few instances of pure altruism. moments or opportunities in our lives that can have a direct benefit to someone else, with no reward other than knowing we have done a good thing. Being a blood donor is a really simple was of giving, to directly benefit others. How many of us will end up having a transfusion in our lives, as a result of an accident,or surgery, or even treatment for other illnesses. My dads wife is having treatment for breast cancer at the moment. The drugs she is taking have knocked her iron levels down, to such an extent, that she had to have a blood transfusion before Christmas, in order to help her function at a somewhat normal level. So, if you are a blood donor, please be proud of yourself, and accept my thanks. I intend to sign up as soon as i am able; no more excuses. If you can, you should. Because you just never know.

I wish, when my babies were small, i had known about milk donation. As a breastfeeding mother, i could see the benefits of breast milk, in the growth and development of my infant. Every day, there are hundreds of tiny, premature babies in special care nurseries who, for one reason or another cannot be sustained by their mothers milk. Donated breast milk can literally save their lives, and help them to recover, to grow and go home. Which is where all babies should be. A good friend of mine recently gave birth to twins, who needed to be in special care for the first few weeks of their lives. They were lucky enough to have donated breast milk. That, with their mothers milk gave them the best start. and they are now at home, and growing into beautiful strong healthy babies.

Are you on the register? When i first passed my driving test, and got my license, back in the days when it was just a piece of paper, it used to come with a slip on the bottom, to be filled in, to indicate your desire to become an organ donor. I filled it in, and put it somewhere safe. Over the years, i have filled in umpteen donor cards, and then invariably lose them. So, to simplify things, you can now register to be an organ donor online. Of course, being on the donor register, doesn't mean you will become a donor. So many things depend on it, not least of which are that your family have to give permission for your organs to be used after your death. In their time of sorrow and distress, a doctor has to approach them, and ask if they will allow your body to be used to save the lives of many others. So. if you are on the register, discuss it with your friends and family, and make sure that they know. 

Of course, there is another way you can help others after your death, which many people don't think about. Today's medical students are tomorrows doctors. The people who will help you stay healthy, who will help you to fight disease, who will treat illnesses. And those students need to learn. There is only so much that cant be learnt by reading books, by browsing the internet and by attending lectures. Nothing quite beats hands on experience. And this experience can only be gleaned in one way; by studying human anatomy and physiology in the flesh. Literally. Some people decide to donate their bodies for scientific research. I am not sure i could do it, but maybe that is because i have met a lot of medical students, but it might be right for you!

Finally, what has prompted me to write about altruistic gestures today? As i write, I am sat in a hospital room, waiting for a friend to come back from surgery. He is a middle aged, single man, with no children, who is going under the knife today, in order to save the life of a stranger. A child, at this moment is waiting to receive a bone marrow donation, which will hopefully transform their life. Donated by my friend, a stranger, because he can. Because he is a match. He doesn't get paid for it,he gets no real reward, other than the knowledge that he has done a good thing.

And, of course, he has my utmost respect. And i am very proud of him.

1 comment:

  1. Sending all good thoughts out for your friend and the child. How fortunate the world is to have people like that. xxxx