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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview with Zell Kravinsky

Aired August 18, 2003 - 20:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: A Philadelphia millionaire who over the last few years has donated $15 million to charity and one of his kidneys to a complete stranger is now talking about giving up his other kidney. If allowed to do that, Zell Kravinsky would be taking altruism to the point of death. With the reason behind the decision, he joins us now from Philadelphia. Welcome doctor, glad to have you with us tonight.
ZELL KRAVINSKY, PHILANTHROPIST: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: I think a lot of people in our audience would view you as a hero for saving the life of a very courageous young woman. But what they might not understand is why you would be willing to end your own life by donating your second kidney. Can you help us understand that tonight and the thinking that is going into that possible decision.

KRAVINSKY: I think in terms of maximum human utility, not in terms of my own life and what I had said, I believe to a "New York Times" reporter was that if someone promised to produce more good for the world, to save more lives or to bring more joy into the lives of other families, and it required my kidney, then it would be logical for me to retain it. But that person would have to demonstrate to me that he or she could bring about more joy or could save more lives or in some way could benefit the world more than I could.

ZAHN: But you acknowledge that you still have the ability to make great contributions, financially as you have to some very worthy causes over the years.

You still recognize that you're able to contribute that way, don't you?

KRAVINSKY: Well, my wife and I have given out $45 million and the supply is not infinite. I think it's -- everyone who said to me you have given enough why don't you stop. Why do you need to give an organ. I think they're missing the point that all of are morally and logically to give all we can in either direction.

ZAHN: You mentioned your wife, you also have four small children. What is your family's reaction to the possibility of your basically ending your own life if you find that right person to donate your kidney to?

KRAVINSKY: I think they find that incomprehensible. I think they -- I know they found the first donation incomprehensible. At that point the risk I took on myself was merely one in 4,000, that's the number who die donating kidneys. And the recipient was probably facing a 100 percent certainty of death without my kidney. So that to tell me not it take that risk was to value my life at 4,000 times her life and I find that obscene and unacceptable.

ZAHN: But you do understand why some folks out there listening tonight might find it hard to believe that you in essence would, I guess, suicide is a loaded word here, but that you would end up being -- committing suicide to help save the life of another person.

KRAVINSKY: I love life, but all of your viewers, everyone in your audience would give their lives for something. Most parents would give their life for their children. I'm drawing the family circle wider and I am saying that -- for instance, the recipient of my kidney, I think she's my sister even though she was a stranger. And the proof is that the kidney that sustained me is sustaining her. And if we are genuinely all brothers and sisters, in that light, the sacrifice I would make which seemed normal to any parent or any brother or sister.

ZAHN: Well, you have a very interesting story to tell. And we shall also mention the fact you gave 2.6 million to the Centers for Disease Control, which I guess is the single largest contribution ever to that institution.

Dr, Zell Kravinsky, thank you for sharing your story with us tonight.

KRAVINSKY: Thank you.

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