Help! Can I Stop My Husband From Donating His Liver to His Niece?

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 15 2013 6:15 AM

Liver? I Hardly Know Her!

In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman trying to keep her husband from donating an organ to his niece.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Q. Liver Transplant: My young niece requires a liver transplant. It turns out that her mom—my SIL—and my husband are a match. We've done a lot of research into it and I feel incredibly uneasy about my husband being a live donor, due to the various risks and impact on his health. My SIL has stated she "can't" donate because it means she can't breast-feed her 1-year-old son or look after the other two kids immediately after the operation. My husband has always been the type of person who gives more than he can, willingly and without thinking. So without any contemplation, he readily agreed. If my SIL wasn't a match either I would absolutely support him being a donor. But it seems that being a donor is too difficult and inconvenient for my SIL, yet she wants my husband to take all the risks. I told my SIL if she were to go through the operation I would take time off work to look after her and her children. Yet she stubbornly insists on my husband. Since I protested so strongly my husband says he will go ahead only if I agree, and now my SIL is extremely angry and hostile toward me. Am I a terrible person or is my SIL being selfish?

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A: Making a decision about organ donation is not be something that should be done without thinking. Since your husband is contemplating this, he should sit down with an expert counselor who can outline the risks and the benefits—knowing one has saved a life has to be a pretty profound thing. Your sister-in-law should also get her own counselor who can lay out her risks and recovery process. Obviously, if she were to be the donor she would need an enormous amount of help caring for the children while she heals. But it sounds as if she has the family around to do it. (Weaning a 1-year-old is a trivial consideration in the context of what's a stake here.) You need to do some major backing off. Of course your husband's health is a concern for you, and a legitimate one. And yes it's fine if you feel he was pressured into this and you want him to give it deeper consideration. But ultimately you must recognize he is an adult and this is not your decision to make. I'm sure time is an issue here, but all of you need to cool off, step back, and agree that you will act like rational adults. Once your husband and sister talk to transplant advisers, your family should hire a social worker with expertise in this subject and all of you, calmly and generously, should air things out to help you make the best decision for your niece and the entire family.

Q. Heard Domestic Violence Through the Walls: I live in an apartment complex with paper-thin walls. My university owns the complex, and upperclassmen live there. My neighbor and her boyfriend fight often—or, rather, he screams at her and she cries. I have never been comfortable with his treatment of her but lacked the push I needed to reach out and do something. Last night he yelled at her for talking to some guy, and I heard what sounded like three slaps. My neighbor started sobbing, and her boyfriend stormed out. I just ran into my neighbor, and she has a busted lip and a bruise across her cheekbone. I have no idea what to do. We don't know each other, and when I asked her if she was OK, she ignored me. I think she must realize I hear some of her boyfriend's screaming matches, but she probably doesn't know that I heard last night. What's my responsibility? I feel I must have some sort of obligation to help her. She might not trust me because to her I'm some strange guy.

A: The next time you hear them mid-fight call the police. In the meantime, report this to the dean of student affairs or the counseling office right away, while the cuts and bruises are fresh. You have more than enough evidence of assault. This boyfriend needs contact with the authorities, and this girlfriend needs help getting out.

Q. Psychic Matchmaker: I was never a huge believer in mysticism, but at a friend's urging, I have made three visits over the past few years to a tarot card reader who has been extraordinarily accurate. During the first two readings, she was very specific about dates and details and roughly 80 percent of her predictions came true. I just visited her again recently and one of the first things she mentioned was in regard to my love life. She mentioned a name and some details about this person and said he was interested in reuniting with me but would never initiate anything because he feared rejection. I knew immediately who she was talking about, and based on my experience with him, I think there is a good chance she could be right. I am interested in pursuing this possibility, but he lives out-of-state and I am not sure how to go about initiating contact with him. I'm used to being pursued and not the pursuer. I do have an email address and other contact information. I would leave the psychic story out, but what should I say? Do you think I'm crazy?

A: I don't believe in all this mumbo jumbo, except when I was regularly seeing psychics I did find one who predicted that within a short period—she said two days, two weeks, or two months—I would meet the man I would marry. I paid her and walked out thinking, "This is the worst psychic I've ever been to" (which is a pretty silly thought itself). Two weeks later my future husband and I went out on a blind date. Upon my marriage, I permanently retired from the psychic-visiting business. Let's put aside the fact that you're thinking of contacting this guy because of the prompting of a psychic. (And are you sure your friend hasn't supplied your psychic with some helpful details about your life?) Your shy guy who got away sounds like someone worth pursuing. When women get to a certain point—one of frustration—in their love lives, I think it's a good idea to reassess one's types and methods. Stepping out of your usual role of the pursued and initiating contact would be a useful exercise, no matter what comes of it. When you get in touch, definitely leave out the psychic story for now. All you need to say to him is that you wanted to wish him a happy new year and hear how he's doing.

Q. Bad Dog Denial: We recently moved back to a city we left several years ago. During that time two of our good friends got a cute dog that they love. She is a very sweet dog that loves to snuggle and give kisses. Now that we are back, we spend a lot of time with them so that our dog can play with theirs. My problem is their dog is so ill-behaved! She jumps up constantly and is overly aggressive in her play. It has gotten to the point when we go to a public place with their dog we get anxiety about whether or not it will pick a fight with someone's dog. We have tried hinting that she could use some more training, but they always blame it on the other dog. They never take responsibility for her. And they just adopted a second dog and seem to be letting the young one learn from their older one. We have started to limit our interactions with them and I feel it is ruining our relationship. Is there a nice way to say, "Hey, your dogs are cute and loveable, but act horribly and need training" without being offensive?

A: You're right that they have an out-of-control dog which is training the second dog to be just as dangerous and obnoxious. I don't understand why people just can't speak up about issues that if they remain unaddressed are going to ruin the relationship anyway. Just tell your friends you enjoy their company and their dogs are adorable, but their pooches need some behavior modification. Say that when you live with pets every day it's easy to lose perspective, but these wonderful animals will be happier, and going out with them with be less anxiety-filled, if a good trainer helps your friends be better owners.

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