Hospital refuses to accept kidney

The Sydney Morning Herald/June 4, 2007

A Canadian hospital has refused to accept the offer of a kidney to a stranger by an Australian religious cult member as a way of expressing his faith in God.

Sydney man Ash Falkingham is a member of the Jesus Christians, a group led by guru David Mckay, who believe kidney donation is the "ultimate" expression of faith.

Nineteen of the group's 30 members living in Kenya, Britain, the United States and Australia have donated a kidney as part of their desire to "live selflessly", ABC Television's Australian Story reports tonight.

Mr Falkingham believes the group, led by guru David McKay, is simply following the true teachings of Christ.

Mr Falkingham's operation was scheduled for April 30 - until the hospital questioned whether he had been coerced by the group, dubbed "the kidney cult".

His parents, Kate and Nick Croft, say they believe the Jesus Christians had "brainwashed" their son, and contacted health authorities in Ontario to express their disapproval of a plan they see as "madness".

The 22-year-old has spent the past 10 weeks in Canada waiting to hear whether the Toronto General Hospital would approve his donation.

Following a psychiatric assessment to determine whether Mr Falkingham was capable of giving informed consent, the hospital informed him at the weekend they would not go ahead with the operation.

He is now on his way back to Australia.

Mr Falkingham was in Canada for the operation because "non-directed" kidney donations are banned in Australia.

He said that under Australian law he would be required to have a long-term friendship with a recipient before donating.

He barely knows the Canadian woman, Sandi Sabloff, who was to have received his kidney, having met her online through the website Living Donors.

"The Jesus Christians believe that what Jesus said, he meant," Mr Falkingham said.

"I decided to do it [donate a kidney] because I like positive things that can be done to help people.

"And I also saw that they [other members] weren't really affected by the operation."

Mr Falkingham said he wanted to go ahead with the donation because he likes "positive things that can be done to help people".

"People might see me as ... young and naive and idealistic ... [but] I see it as a small thing," Mr Falkingham said.

"There are 6 billion people on the planet and helping one, I think it's just human nature."

But his parents contacted the health authority in Ontario, pointing out that later on Mr Falkingham might feel the hospital was responsible for not picking up that he was being coerced into donating his kidney.

Mr McKay decided kidney donation was the "ultimate" expression of faith after seeing the film A Gift of Love, the true story of a boy who donates a kidney to his grandmother.

Mr Falkingham joined the group three years ago, and since then his mother and stepfather have been trying to rescue him.

His mother said donating an organ to a complete stranger was "shocking".

"I was living in a world of aghastness," Ms Croft said of discovering her son's plan.

"I would say it [Jesus Christians] is a cult. I would say it's a sect. I would say it's madness."

When Mr Falkingham first joined the group contact with his family was limited to email.

"It seems like it's part of McKay's practice to make the new recruits cut off their ties with their friends and family," Mr Falkingham's stepfather, Nick Croft, said.

Mr Croft also accuses the Jesus Christians of draining his stepson's bank account - although Mr McKay says every member willingly puts their money into a "common fund".

Ms Sabloff said she was devastated and heartbroken at the news that she would not be receiving Mr Falkingham's kidney.

She suffers from a form of kidney disease from which her brother has already died.

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