Let’s talk about organ donation: it is a personal choice. Transplants save lives, but they heavily rely on donors offering to donate them. If you have any concerns or medical queries after reading what I am about to tell you then you should, as always speak to your doctor!
Organ donation helps people when their organs aren’t working as they should and are failing or have failed. A person can donate a whole host of organs including kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas etc. This may be when one has brain stem death, in other words the brain stem is not working due to irreversible brain injury, circulatory death following a cardiac arrest when a patient can’t or shouldn’t be resuscitated, or a living donation where an organ is donated from one alive person to another.
Did you know that organ donation from ethnic minority communities is quite low? If there aren’t enough organs to go around then that means that it is even more difficult for the tissue or blood types of the organs to match with their potential recipients. It may surprise you to know that some HLA (or Human Leukocyte Antigen) types are more common in ethnic minorities, as are some blood types. There are also some ethnic groups that are more at risk of certain diseases than others which may end up with the need for an organ transplant. With diabetes and high blood pressure incredibly common in the Asian community, a need for a transplant is more likely. Diabetes and high blood pressure can cause vascular disease resulting in organ failure. It is when organs fail that people require a transplant.
A statistic that I have pulled from the NHS even surprised me: that “on average, patients from the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities will wait a year longer for a kidney transplant than a white patient, due to the lack of suitable organs.” Isn’t that shocking? This means people are dying because there are not enough matches.
One of the key aspects or organ and tissue donation is that they cannot be taken without the patient’s consent. This consent is either via close friends or relatives who were made aware of the patient’s wishes prior to death or the patient joining the NHS Organ Donation Register in life. If it is unclear as to whether the patient did or did not want their organs donated, then the question may fall to those closest to them.
There are a few other points to note, that people with CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease) or cancer which spread in the past 12 months cannot donate. Neither can people with HIV in most cases. Others may not wish to donate, or be uncertain about whether their spiritual or religious needs have been met before committing to a decision.
So without going into an in-depth debate about what religion says about organ donation, I will briefly touch on Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Unfortunately it is beyond the scope of my message to talk about this in more detail, or touch on the other religions. I am not a theologian or religious scholar, however whilst I may prescribe only medication, I can talk about my simplistic understanding and brief research on the topic from a religious angle.
There are two views in Islam, one that “necessities permit the prohibited” which supports donation, and the other that “the saving of life is not absolute” where “organ donation compromises the special honour accorded to man.” Ultimately, it is a personal choice and donation can be a difficult one to make. One cannot only seek medical assistance but also religious advice from an appropriate scholar. A quote from the Qur’an says: “Whosoever saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.”
In Christianity, a quote from the Archbishop of Wales (2011) sums it up: “Giving organs is the most generous act of self-giving imaginable.” However it is important to know as in many religions there are different schools of thought, and one should speak to a relevant religious advisor.
Organ transplantation is accepted in Judaism, largely if the organs are harvested after death and a similar sentiment from Pirke D’Rav Eliezer is that “one who saves a single life – it is as if he has saved an entire world.” However once again, there may be varying views and it would be well advised that one should speak to a scholar.
One size does not fit all and if you are uncertain about anything you have read, speak to your practice nurse, doctor, a religious scholar or spiritual adviser. If you would like to commit to organ donation, look up the topic on the NHS website and you can join the Organ Donation Register.
I hope this article leaves you with some searching questions, some of which only you have the answers to. Reflect and enjoy the journey! You can follow my Twitter feed on @Faraaz_Bhatti and let’s talk about important health issues. If you would like me to discuss any specific issue or get a conversation going then feel free to let me know.