When he was 18, Michael Poulson did something that is undeniably selfless and brave: He donated a kidney to his stepfather's brother. Eight years later, both men are doing fine. But Poulson is now a medical student, and in an essay at the Washington Post, he writes that he regrets his decision. At the time, he was told what many donors hear: his own health risks would be minimal. But Paulson writes that his years in medical school have led him to believe that a scarcity of data makes that claim impossible to substantiate. Some studies back it up, while others cite an increased risk of ailments including end-stage renal disease for donors. Paulson himself once interviewed more than 100 kidney donors and discovered enough problems that his concerns were first kindled.
"At the time of my surgery, I thought the system was designed to protect me as a donor," writes Paulson. "Yet, now, more than eight years later, I am angry that I was never fully informed of the lack of research or the unknown long-term health implications for me." One problem is that hospitals are required to track donors for only two years, he writes, meaning that long-term data is virtually non-existent. Paulson adds that he has largely made his peace with the potential risks, though he occasionally feels anxious. "The sad and difficult truth is this: Knowing what I know now, I regret donating in the first place." Click for the full column. (Read more organ donor stories.)