Don Bedwell: An Ethics Hero to Remember
There are special and rare people whose ethical instincts are so pure and keen that they can make the rest of us feel inadequate. Perhaps that is why they seldom get the publicity or the public praise that they deserve. The story of Don Bedwell, an inspiring ethics hero, has been so far mostly told in local Ohio papers, and some accounts of his unselfish and generous act have even taken on a mocking tone, as if a spontaneous act of love and kindness marks him as some kind of oddball; the Ethics Scoreboard encountered it on WFTV.Com’s “News of the Strange.” But if Don Bedwell is strange in our world, it is not his tragedy, but ours.
Don Bedwell learned that a woman he barely knew needed a kidney transplant, so he gave her one of his.
He is a 56 year-old engineer, and the woman is a Barbara Rector, a waitress at the Chinese restaurant where he eats dinner on Fridays, as he makes the long drive from his job in Cleveland to his home in Columbia City. He heard about her plight late last year. They had struck up a brief conversation, as they had on other Fridays, but this time it was different from the typical small talk that passes between restaurant workers and their “regulars.” Rector told him her kidneys had failed, and that she would have to stop work soon as the hospital searched for a suitable organ donor. Bedwell could have just sighed, offered his sympathies and wished her luck; certainly that is what most of us would have done. But he wrote his name, address and phone number on a napkin, and told her, “If I can help you, I can do that. You can have one of my kidneys.”
He wasn’t kidding. There was no guarantee that he’d be a match, of course, but he registered as a kidney donor, and underwent the necessary tests. Meanwhile, Rector’s search for a donor was foundering. Her sons were not good matches, and the one suitable donor located was discovered to have medical problems. Then Rector learned that a match had been found. It was Bedwell. Last week, his kidney was successfully transplanted into Barbara Rector, and he is home recuperating.
From the quotes attributed to him, Bedwell is surprised that anyone is making a fuss over him. After all, he says, lots of children and grandchildren depend on people that have no healthy kidneys, and so many people are walking around with an extra one. It is clear that to Bedwell, it didn’t matter that he barely knew Barbara Rector. All that mattered was that she was a human being who needed help, and that he was in a position to give it. To Bedwell, it was an easy choice.
But it was only an easy choice for a man with Bedwell’s ethical priorities. Most of us would consider the pain, the risk of surgery, and the lost work time as decisive disincentives. We would tick off the rationalizations
“If I give her my kidney, I won’t be able to give it to someone I really care about.”
Most likely of all, it wouldn’t even occur to us to offer Barbara Rector a kidney. But let’s be absolutely clear: a world where offering a stranger a life-saving kidney is the natural thing to do would be a far more ethical, peaceful, generous and caring world than the one we live in now.
As we honor the pure goodness of Don Bedwell, we should dedicate ourselves to becoming more like him.
We have a long way to go.