Getty Images/Science Photo Libra
What a difference a week makes.
Just a few days ago, Jesus Navarro, an undocumented immigrant, was denied a kidney transplant, the Contra Costa Times reported. UCSF reportedly denied the transplant because of his illegal status. UCSF said the issue was never immigration status, but instead the status of his insurance. Navarro did not have the necessary insurance to pay his bill. UCSF also insists they never denied the transplant.
Either way, all that has changed. Both Navarro and UCSF said Thursday they are confident that he will have the money to secure insurance and therefore get the surgery.
The university says Navarro will receive a kidney from his wife. His kidney disease-projected death sentence has been commuted.
Chalk up the victory to the compassion of a kidney transplant recipient (from a Nicaraguan immigrant) and an online petition organization.
Within days, 130,000 individuals signed a petition on Change.org, the organization that housed the effort.
This speed-of-light reversal is a compelling story. But behind the story is yet another example of how the Internet has become a 21st Century launching pad for public opinion.
Just think about what's happened in the past few weeks: Congress reversing course on piracy legislation, the Susan G. Komen Foundation doing an about face on its decision to end funding of Planned Parenthood, and now this.
Like many innovations, public pressure via the Internet has a plus and a minus. The plus is that hundreds of thousands of people have found ways to present their opinions to public policy makers who respond to pressure.
In other words, it's a new way of forging a direct connection between those who are governed with those elected to lead us.
But there is a minus, too, or at least the potential for a minus. In a representative democracy, numbers don't always tell the story.
Because large numbers, even majorities, pressure policy makers, their opinions of the moment may threaten smaller, less organized groups. Rushed opinions may also violate basic constitutional guarantees.
Public opinion is not always right, especially public opinion of the moment. Just think about the public's demand to incarcerate Japanese-Americans at the start of World War II, or the public's rush to prosecute Iraq in 2003 for what turned out to be unfounded reasons.
We sometimes forget that we elect policy makers to give them the comfort of deliberation--to consider issues over a period of time to avoid rushing to judgment.
Three cheers for Jesus Navarro and those who fought to right a wrong. This sweet moment should not be swept aside cavalierly.
But let's remember that rushed public opinion can take on the qualities of mob rule, and in a representative democracy, such actions may not always generate the best results.