Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have two sons, 19 and 12. My younger boy has a rare form of kidney disease. His kidney function is currently normal, but his doctor says that in the future he may need a new kidney. At that point, his brother would be high on the list for compatibility and availability. I, sadly, would not.

How does one mention the possibility of being a donor to his older brother? Is it even fair to ask? If he doesn't offer, would I always resent it? Should we wait until there is a real need before asking? -- PLANNING AHEAD IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR PLANNING AHEAD: All families are different, and it's a credit to yours that you're thinking ahead regarding some of the difficult aspects related to donation. This subject can sometimes be fraught with the potential for perceived coercion. It can be offset by not framing it as a "request" from one family member, but as a general family discussion about the loved one's health situation.

Among the issues that should be raised: What does it mean for your younger son to have this rare kidney disease? What's the survival rate for an adolescent who receives a living donor transplant? What is involved in the donation process?

These questions should be raised as a family in conversation with a physician or other members of the kidney care team. Family members can then talk about how they feel about the issue, not as a response to a direct question. This provides a chance for better education about the condition as well as the process, and reduces fear.

The decision to be a living donor is a voluntary one and should be entered into free of pressure. Some people may not want to take the risk -- and their rights should be respected. The evaluation process is very thorough. It's designed to minimize risk and also can uncover unexpected conditions in the potential donor that are important.

The National Kidney Foundation provides information on its website regarding this subject. Visit kidney.org to learn more.

DEAR ABBY: I share a small office space with a co-worker, "Tammy," who is going through a nasty divorce. At first I tried to be supportive and listen to her problems, but now I think it was a mistake. I now dread going to work because I know I'll have to 1isten to a litany of complaints as soon as I walk through the door.

I have tried to encourage Tammy to talk to a priest or a psychologist, but she refuses because she's embarrassed. Is it time to inform our manager? I don't want to get Tammy in trouble, but I feel I'm incapable of giving her the kind of support she seems to need. I'm not sure how much longer I can take this. Please help. -- WELL-INTENTIONED IN MINNEAPOLIS

DEAR WELL-INTENTIONED: Summon up the courage to tell Tammy that although you care about her, you can no longer listen to her problems because it's distracting you from your responsibilities at work. Explain again that these are issues she should be sharing with a trained professional. If she persists in bringing her personal problems to you, then ask your manager to put a stop to it.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)