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Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 1999 /17 Tishrei, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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What's right --
IT OFTEN SEEMS that columnists are put on this earth to lament and decry. But it would be a form of journalistic malpractice never to notice the good things that are happening in our nation and the world.

Enmity between Greece and Turkey has simmered for almost six centuries, nearly flaring into war on several occasions in recent years. But last month, when Turkey was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed more than 15,000 people and left many more destitute, Greece was among the first nations to offer help.

Greek relief workers flew to Turkey, bringing medicine and other supplies, while at home in Athens there were blood drives and concerts to raise money for the victims.

A few weeks later, by tragic symmetry, Athens was hit by an earthquake, as well. Then, it became Turkey's chance to repay the kindness. Relief streamed in the other direction, and as Newsweek reported, the leading newspaper of Istanbul ran a headline, "May you recover soon, neighbor!" -- in Greek.

Such breakthroughs are rare between people and even more rare between nations.

Another hopeful sign is an even more profound change in international relations. It has been the practice of nations for centuries to avert their eyes when leaders have engaged in genocide against their own people (or, more precisely, the people over whom they have political authority, since it is often the case that ethnic or tribal differences divide peoples within the same political entity). But now, as Australia leads an international peace-keeping force in East Timor, we have the first hard evidence that someone in the world other than the United States is willing to lead an international force to prevent genocide.

In fact, for six years -- since the U.S. discouraged other nations from intervening in Rwanda -- nations around the world have been inching toward a consensus about genocide. Kofi Annan has urged that the United Nations be the vehicle for preventing genocide in the future.

This is the sort of thing that causes fainting spells among the black helicopter crowd. But let's be realistic. It is simply impossible to imagine a scenario in which blue-helmeted troops from Helsinki and Ghana come marching into Boston or Miami.

Is skepticism about the U.N. (past comforter of tyrants and terrorists) in order? Yes. Should we guard our sovereignty at all costs? Of course. But one needn't be a one-world fantasist to notice that stopping genocide is now becoming a political possibility. And that is a great step forward for mankind.

The last cause for gratitude is here at home. Doctors have noticed a new phenomenon in the field of organ donation -- stranger donation. Each year, more than 4000 living Americans donate organs. But nearly all of them are relatives, friends or co-workers of the recipients.

Now, Good Samaritans are coming out of the woodwork. They are people like Joyce Roush, a nurse from Fort Wayne, Ind., with a husband and five children. After attending a lecture about new surgical techniques to ease kidney donation, she stepped forward and offered to donate one of hers to the next person on the list.

The response of the medical community has been disbelief. They had Rouse examined by a psychiatrist, who pronounced her eminently sane and "altruistic," and they have wondered aloud about the morality of permitting stranger donation.

Dr. Mark Siegler, a medical ethicist at the University of Chicago, told The New York Times, "The benefits (to the donor) are obviously not medical. They have been psychological, and I think also social, in terms of the donor's view of himself ... as a hero, as someone who saved a life."

Why can't we recognize heroism when it is staring us in the face? Must we diminish it by calling it a "psychological need" as Siegler did later in the story? Roush and scores of other organ donors, some who prefer to remain anonymous, know the risks. If their remaining kidneys should fail, they will themselves be on the list waiting for a donation, and there is always the chance of a surgical complication.

But 13-year-old Christopher Bieniek, the boy who has a life now thanks to Roush, is probably content with her explanation: "I think G-d tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to do this."

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate