Darwin thought that our appendix was vestigial, a left over organ that no longer served any purpose. Now we know that the appendix can serve as a hiding place for good gut bacteria so they can replenish the colon after unpleasant circumstances like diarrhea or colon cleansing.
"Two years ago, Duke University Medical Center researchers said that the supposedly useless appendix is actually where good gut bacteria safely hide out during some unpleasant intestinal conditions." Scientific American
Courtesy This Years LoveA New Zealand man was admitted to his local hospital last week with a kidney infection. It turned out that he hardly needed to worry about it, though, because even if the infection completely destroyed one of his kidneys… he would still have four kidneys left!
That’s right, proving once again that things are backwards on the other side of the planet, all tests performed on the man seem to indicate that he has five kidneys, two on the left and three on the right.
I’ve never read Nietzsche, but I’m pretty sure this is what he meant by “ubermensch.” If one or two kidneys makes you a man, then surely five kidneys would make you a superman.
It should be noted that the five kidneys are not scattered willy-nilly throughout the man’s body cavity. The kidneys are all bunched together in the space that we lower humans use to keep our meager two kidneys. What tipped the nephrologists off was that there were several ureters (or “kidney tubes,” as I call them) leading to each kidney. There should only be one ureter (or “pee pipe,” as I call them) per kidney, leading the doctors to believe that the man did indeed have five independent (if bunched up) kidneys.
What’s the upshot of this? Well, the doctors say “nothing,” that having extra kidneys shouldn’t affect the man’s health. I’m no doctor, however, and I have other ideas. Super-strength seems an obvious side effect of extra organs, but, given that we’re dealing with kidneys here, super alcohol consuming abilities seems reasonable as well. I like to imagine that this man can turn buckets of delicious New Zealand beer into buckets of harmless New Zealand urine in just moments. If someone ever trapped him in a tank of beer, this could come in useful. Useful, I guess, if he would rather be trapped in a tank of urine. You never know. The man might also be particularly vulnerable to kidney-punches, something worth keeping in mind if he ever attempts to use his gifts for evil purposes. I’m not sure what these evil purposes would be, although the rapid production of urine comes to mind again.
I was rather surprised to find out that only 50 organ transplants were conducted in the country of Scotland in 2005, despite their being 818 people on the waiting list for organs. This statistic and others are pushing the BMA (British Medical Association) to argue for a system of presumed consent for organ donation. Click to read their description of this new idea.
I read a rather fascinating story last night by Larry Niven called The Jigsaw Man. Without giving away the plot completely, it spells out the possible dystopian future we could face as organ transplants become more efficient and common. In the story, society is not able to resist the temptation to harvest organs from criminals who are executed for their crimes. However, as the demand for organs grows, the list of crimes that are punishable by execution grows as well (think traffic offenses). Where does it stop? Well, you can read the story.
This story, written in the late 60s, is a great example of science fiction predicting the future in a small way. We reported recently (Give a kidney, do less time: State deals with organ donation ethics) on California lawmakers considering a law that could give prisoners up to 180 days off their sentence for donating a kidney. If we start trading time of prison terms for organs, why shouldn't we require organ harvesting from executed prisoners? I personally think this would be ethically atrocious but I also know there are allot of people waiting on the list for organ transplants.
What do you think? Do you see any sort of future where prisoners are considered acceptable organ donors, with or without their permission?