Giving away most of his $45m fortune was not enough for Zell Kravinsky – he gave away one of his kidneys too, to a black woman who was a stranger to him and who would probably otherwise have died. His was one of only ’several dozen’ nondirected kidney donations made each year in the US. The more I read this New Yorker article about Kravinsky the more admiration I feel for him and the more it saddens me that he seems to be painted largely as a crank. He seems to have been inspired by Peter Singer whose influential essay, Famine, Affluence, and Morality pointed out (to my mind convincingly) that there is no moral difference between failing to save a child who is drowning in a shallow pond right in front of you and failing to give money to charity that would help to save a child’s life in Bangladesh. Moreover it is hard to establish a moral difference between one’s responsibility to one’s family and friends and the same responsibility to any other person in need. (I am not at all persuaded incidentally by Singer’s next step which is to suggest that All Animals are Equal and therefore, ‘ that we extend to other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognize should be extended to all members of our own species’).
I do believe (uncomfortably) that I should really be living at a minimum comfort level and the rest of my money should be going to those who need it in the third world. Like most people however I would have great difficulty living according to that principle and accordingly I put it to the back of my mind and try to do what I can within the limits of ‘normal’ behaviour. That makes me all the more filled with admiration for one of the few people who seems to be making a serious, conscientious attempt to live according to those principles (albeit imperfectly – he and his family are not living a millionaire lifestyle but neither are they ‘living poor’).
More coverage of his story from The Daily Telegraph.