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Why GMOs and Genomic Medicine Made Me Register as an Organ Donor

Before you waste your time – if you’re anti Affordable Care Act, anti social programs, or against a mandated living wage, don’t bother reading further. This is for readers who care about everyone’s children, not just their own.

What’s does one inherit with parenthood? A belly pooch, and “Elmo’s Song” with your name in it? Loss of autonomy? Supremely breathtaking depths of love? Here’s another parenthood prize—a heightened sense of empathy and ethical obligation. I’m not saying that non-parents aren’t empathetic or ethical. Still, when I had my daughter I suddenly gained a perspective of seeing virtually every instance of suffering and tragedy from a parent’s eyes.

Upon my daughter’s birth, I became acutely aware of my husband’s and my privileged existence, and of that privilege permeating unfettered to my children. Every time I take my children to the doctor, I’m thankful for my excellent health insurance. When I purchase a toy or book without concern about my bank account, I feel a twinge of guilt. When I kick back and read to my kids while my husband cooks dinner, I thank the universe for our cushy careers, and the relative ease with which my household runs. I try my best to point out how lucky my kids are. With my oldest being 3 ½, imparting awareness of their privilege is an ongoing process. My heart perpetually breaks seeing children on the street in India selling trinkets for pennies. After all, what apart from circumstance of birth differentiates them from my kids? Even when I see an adult suffering, I wonder how his parents feel. Yes I know this is cloyingly clichéd, but I imagine that many privileged American parents agree.

I’m a democrat and I tend to lean left. Some of my corresponding beliefs: All children should have access to healthcare, to a good education, to proper nutrition, to opportunity, and to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those blessed with abundance should compensate for those who aren’t equally blessed, so all children are nurtured. My husband and I have no qualms with our property tax rate.

Obviously, there are certain issues on which an altruism is impossible without awareness.

This is why I wrote my recent rant, “Good, Kindhearted Parents are Pro-GMO.” I won’t rehash it, but I strongly urge you to read it here. While the tone is harsh, my intention was not to condescend but to elucidate the potential of GMO technology to alleviate malnutrition. Many anti-GMO Americans are misled: Contrary to the dangerously disingenuous drivel from Vandana Shiva, GMOs don’t perpetuate poverty. Conversely, these technologies are imperative to sustain the world’s growing population. With cognizance that GM tech unequivocally safe, and its potential to alleviate suffering, one must either take a pro-GM stance or expose an inherent cold-heartedness. Anyone whose primary concern is GMOs in Chobani or at Whole foods has a lot to learn about privilege.

I wrote “I Want You! (and Your Kids’ DNA)” to make a similar point. Similar to anti-GMO sentiment, there is a lot of public wariness of genomic medicine due to fear. While direct-to-consumer genetic testing is problematic in its own right, genomic and precision medicine as a field will undoubtedly revolutionize disease treatment for the better. While there is always a minute risk of genetic information being misused, the benefits of genomic data sharing are colossal. If we truly want cures for mild to severe and fatal diseases, we must be willing to maximally mitigate and then bear these risks as individuals for the benefit of society.

I started pondering these ideas of altruism and awareness…

Not long after my latest posts on genomic medicine, one of my closest friends was hospitalized. Her kidneys were failing and my heart was breaking. The need for dialysis and a kidney transplant was becoming more and more apparent. I saw the anguish in her mother’s eyes, and wondered how I would handle one of my children in such critical health. As many of my parent peers with healthy children would concur, such distress can only be imagined and not fathomed. Several days passed and fortunately, my dear friend’s circumstance improved. After the worst had passed I told her, “If I were a match, I would have given you my kidney without a second thought.”

My error hit me like a ton of hypocrisy-shaped bricks. Here I am preaching about how to be a “good, kindhearted parent,” and I’m not even a registered organ donor. I urge my readers to donate their genetic information for the sake of public health. I insist that a pro-GMO stance is not only in the name of science, but in bolstering anyone’s role as a figurative brothers’ keeper. I would give my own friend a kidney, but I hadn’t even planned to bestow my organs to strangers upon my death.

My organ donor status never occurred to me as significant, but now it was staring me in the face. I don’t do well with cognitive dissonance, so I immediately enrolled in Wisconsin’s organ and tissue donor registry.

The short answer to why GMOs and genomic medicine incited my organ donor registration:  Cognitive dissonance and altruism. In terms of morality, many issues are subjective. But if my actions, inactions, or public discourse affects or detracts from anyone’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness, I can’t help but question my integrity. My not-so-humble opinion: Any empathetic, kindhearted person must be pro-GMO, pro-dissemination of genomic information, and pro-organ donation. Aside from well-known matters like affordable health care, living wage, abortion rights, and gay marriage rights, what are other less obvious political stances that altruistic people must take?

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy is a mom of two, co-Executive Director of March Against Myths, public speaker, Forbes contributor and author in Madison, WI. She is also co-author of "The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House". Follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

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