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Ask a Writer: Help With My Boyfriend's Kidney-Stealing Parents!

Ask a Writer: Help With My Boyfriend's Kidney-Stealing Parents!

Conventional Wisdom is a different kind of advice column. Your questions will be answered by people from all walks of life rather than by advice experts. Today, a nonfiction writer will offer her common sense advice. You can submit questions here.

Today's Question: My boyfriend and I have been together for over three years. We live together and plan on getting married someday so you better believe I love him.

His parents are alcoholics. I have always said I knew what alcoholics were like, but after meeting them, I realized I had no idea. His mother drinks nothing but alcohol and barely eats. She weighs 90 lbs and refuses to get help. His dad actually encourages her.

Recently his dad got ill and was put on dialysis but continues to drink and eat bad things and always ends up back in the ER. He was on the list to receive a kidney donation but due to his poor behavior, he was taken off the list. He can, however, be given a kidney if someone he knows will donate. So who have they turned to? Their three sons. They are now pressuring my boyfriend and his brothers to go get tested to see if they are the same blood type.

I am furious about this. Besides the fact that they are alcoholics (and yes, I know it's an illness), they are mean. Their sons break their necks to please them and get nothing in return. My boyfriend and his brothers had a horrible childhood and I can only hope the rest of his parents' lives are half as bad as what they put their kids through. I know that if his dad receives a kidney, he will go back to drinking and not take his meds and it will have all been for nothing. How can I intervene? Or should I?

— Worried For My Boyfriend's Kidneys and Sanity

To hear a nonfiction writer's advice,


Dear Worried,

What a painful situation for both you and your boyfriend to be in. Of course you feel protective of the man you love. Unfortunately, this is a true life or death situation involving his father, who for better or worse is one of your boyfriend’s most significant relationships. You did not mention whether your boyfriend is seriously considering giving his father his kidney, or if he has asked for your advice. I will assume so, since you’ve written this letter.

My first instinct is to tell you to be very careful about putting yourself between your boyfriend and his family. If you encourage him not to do this (or even consider it) and he later comes to regret that choice, it could damage your relationship and your future together.

Your role is to love and support him while he makes this difficult choice, regardless of what he decides to do. Don’t come down too strongly against his parents, even though it sounds clear that they have been abusive to their children. Being raised in an alcoholic family is very psychologically complex, often leaving children with feelings of guilt and responsibility that seem confusing to others. Groups like Al-Anon exist for the people that love alcoholics to help give them perspective and support by talking to one another in a safe place. You could encourage him to find a local chapter and attend a meeting. Perhaps they could help your boyfriend explore why he would be willing to get radical surgery to help a man who is not helping himself.

Rather than building a case against his family, you could help your boyfriend gather and process information about the surgery. He needs to seriously consider the physical and emotional risks he would experience by giving up a kidney. He should meet with his father's doctor to find out what his own health risks would be, what the procedure would be like, and what his father's prognosis would be if he does continue to drink. Maybe you could accompany him to that meeting.

Sometimes the best way we can help the people we love is by helping them help themselves.

Signed, A Nonfiction Writer


Join The Conversation
janneth janneth 8 years
All of your answers make me angry, except for Chouette. The father ruined his own kidney, and now he will ruin his son's kidney. It's true that he can't help himself. So accept that he will die from his disease. How can the family even consider putting their children's healthy future at risk? This could have a direct impact on your life and happiness. Do you really want to be silent, or give "gentle" advice? But keep in mind that your boyfriend may be so shaped by his childhood that he can't make a rational decision.
earthgoddess earthgoddess 8 years
This may be a stupid question, but wouldn't something like this have to be presented to an ethics committee either way? I agree with the advice given, despite my personal opinion that he should not offer his kidney to his father who has proven irresponsible. She should be as supportive as possible in this delicate situation, and help her boyfriend make sure he has all of the information he'll need to make a difficult decision.
kred kred 8 years
Coming from a family with many severe alcoholics and drug addicts, I would never donate a kidney to them. Not becasue I dont love them, but becasue they have tried and failed one too many times for me to go through that pain and anxiety ever again of "will it work this time around". With that said I get very offeneded sometimes at people's opinons of how I should deal with them and do not resond well to unsolicited advise. Your best bet is to make sure that he is aware that the end result may not be ideal if he went through with it, but you will support him no matter what his decision.
Chouette4u Chouette4u 8 years
I don't think you can have a legal contract like that. If he breaks the contract, what are the consequences? The son takes the kidney back? You can't enforce anything like that, and I think there are issues attaching conditions to organ donations.
Smacks83 Smacks83 8 years
That's a great thought Azure. If I did it for my family, there would be conditions like that in some agreement.
Azurefire Azurefire 8 years
I like the advice already given. However, if I was in your shoes I would probably see if there was any way your bf could have legal papers drawn up stating that if he donate a kidney, the father would be legally required in exchange to enter(and remain in)a program like AA. I don't know if that's doable, but if so it might be a good way to help ensure his sacrifice wasn't in vain. Although, there is always the possibility that even suggesting legal ultimatiums might upset your bf, so I would tread lightly.
queenegg queenegg 8 years
You received some good advice. I have a recovering alcholic in my family who is very closely related to me. I know that if my bf tried to force his mind on me, I would just be upset with him because he doesn't understand, even if I agreed with him.
Chouette4u Chouette4u 8 years
How much does your boyfriend know about alcoholism? If he donates his kidney to his dad, he will become one of the biggest enablers ever. Obviously he wants to save his parent's life, but he can't risk his own health for someone who isn't even on the road to recovery. I think the best thing for you to do is to encourage him to learn about the surgery and the long term effects for himself and also see a therapist who is experienced in dealing with families with addictions. Hopefully the therapist will tell him all of the things you want to tell him without the pressure coming from you. I bet he will come to the right conclusion.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 8 years
You received some excellent advice.
merie33 merie33 8 years
Family may be family, but some of them aren't worth having in your life and ruining yours. His parents know exactly what they're doing asking those boys to consider donation. And it's a shame. What's also a shame though is your situation. You really probably don't want to push him too much one way or another. Like Chrstne said, I'm sure he's not stupid, and he does see what his father is doing to him. What I would do is let him make his choice. If he asks your opinion tell him. But don't push him.
Chrstne Chrstne 8 years
I agree. I think you need to have a talk with your BF about him having the surgery, research this, any possible issues that may arise with it, etc. Also get him to consider who he is doing this for. It's not a person that one day woke up and was severely ill. Hey, it happens. This is someone who made the decision to drink everyday, etc., and he did it to himself. However, I dont think your BF is an idiot. I think he has enough sense to see all of this for what it really is. But is worth a shot to talk to him. Don't try to turn him against his family...which will probably do more harm than good. Just give him a friendly reminder of the fact this is surgery...invasive, for HIM as well. You know, all the information.
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