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.

Q. Re: Domestic Violence in Dorm: My friend heard domestic violence from our college dorm room during our senior year. She called the police. The next day there were sticky notes on every door in our building saying "thank you" to the unknown person who called the police. Please call the police.

A: Amen.

Q. Stinky House: I have dear friend "Rachel" who generously fosters cats. The number of cats that she fosters has grown to around 15. She also has a dog and three cats of her own. Unfortunately, her house smells like it has 18 cats and a dog! She likes to entertain and has thrown holiday parties over the last few years. Each party has been more and more sparsely attended until this last party in which only one person of 20 invitees showed up. I, myself, also decided to go elsewhere. She is incredibly hurt by the fact that no one is coming to her parties and is at a loss to understand why. How do I diplomatically and gently tell her that reason why attendance is so low is because her house, literally, smells like crap?

A: See above letter. Substitute "dog's behavior" for "house smells like piss and crap." Before you do that, if you can find out what organization(s) she's fostering from contact the group(s) and explain your friend is way over the limit and the conditions are not good for animal or human. Your friend is crossing, or has crossed, into hoarding.

Q. Birthday Party Favoritism: The daughter of a friend of mine recently had her fifth birthday. At the party my friend caught her husband deliberately rigging a party game so that the birthday girl could win. When she spoke with him afterward, he said that it was a harmless way to make the day more special for her. As an ethics question, this has my group of friends pretty split. The mother of the birthday girl and my boyfriend both see this as spoiling a child, and being completely unnecessary. The father of the birthday girl and myself both see it as a harmless ego-boost. As the arbiter of manners and morals, where do you stand, Prudie?

A: Even the birthday girl has to learn to be a good loser. However, unless Dad tries to put the fix in on everything in his daughter's life, once everyone has stated their position, this is the kind of thing that should be dropped.

Q. Re: Domestic Violence through the walls: I would venture a guess that someone near Yeardley Love heard and saw the same thing and never spoke up. Please do for this young lady's sake.

A: Thank you for mentioning this. I thought of the horrific death of the beautiful, accomplished college student Yeardley Love at the hands of her boyfriend and classmate. More reason to always speak up about domestic violence.

Q. Absent Father: For my entire life, my father has been a drug addict. I have many memories of him stealing my things, disappearing for days, etc. Since I've become an adult (I'm 28 now), I've had limited contact with him as I realized he was not going to change his ways. A couple of years ago, however, he stopped responding to my messages. I accepted that this was for the best and moved on with my life. The other day, I received a Facebook message from a teenage girl who says she is my father's stepdaughter, and that she would like to get to know me better as well as put me back in contact with my father, going so far as to provide me with his cellphone number. I replied back to her that while I appreciate that she is just trying to do something nice for someone she cares about, that I am not going to reconnect. Now, she thinks that not only am I rejecting my father, but her as well. That is not my intention, but I don't know how to speak with her and not to my father, and I assume she will continue to try to get me to call him since she has already sent me two “guilt trip” messages telling me about how my father “cries to know” I don't want to speak to him. Do I owe something to this girl who seems to love my father, or can I block her from contacting me further with a clear conscience?

A: Sadly it sounds as if your father is up to his old, manipulative games. How dreadful of him to try to make his teenage stepdaughter his go-between, and use her to pressure you. You can send her one last note saying that you are glad to hear your father has been able to be an important person in her life, but it's not fair of him to make her try to get you two back together. Tell her as much as she cares for her stepdad, your lack of relationship with him is for many complicated reasons that you don't want to burden her with. Say you wish all of them the best, but not being is contact is the right decision for you. Then if the guilt trips continue, go ahead and block her.

Q. Re: Birthday Party Favoritism: How will the birthday girl feel when/if she finds out that her own father didn't trust her to win, and rigged the game?

A: I agree he shouldn't have done it, but one rigged game of pin the tail on the donkey should not ruin a childhood.

Q. Flirtatious Boyfriend: My boyfriend and I have been together for about eight months now. I am very happy with him. He is loving, attentive, caring, and overall a great boyfriend. The thing that bothers me is that he is very flirtatious with other women, even his female friends. He never does it in front of me, but I know he is like that. He is starting up his company and is now desperately looking to bring in sales. I know he flirts with female clients and other women who can potentially bring him some business. He calls it networking. Even though I don't quite like him flirting with other women I understand his point. The thing is, he left his phone at my place the other day and I felt curious; and even though I shouldn't have, I checked his messages. Most of the messages were from friends or family but there was one to some woman I never heard from in which they were talking about meeting for coffee. He was calling her pretty and beautiful, like, "Hello beautiful" and "You look very pretty in your picture." These messages bothered me. A part of me got very jealous as the messages weren't really clear what was the coffee meeting for. I don't want to think he is cheating on me, a part of me tells me this could be some "prospect client" but a part of me isn't so sure about it. Should I say something and if so, how? I know it was wrong checking his messages, how do I deal with this now?

A: "Hello beautiful" and "You look very pretty in your picture" sounds like pitches for a very special, one-on-one kind of service industry. Perhaps he's in the mattress-testing business. Sure you don't want to think he's cheating, but that's exactly what you do think. So tell him you snooped, that you found concerning evidence, and listen to what he has to say. Then be tough-minded enough to recognize when you're hearing baloney.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone, talk to you next week.

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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