Organ Trade: Massacre of Morality

A person can still be alive even after death making the death meaningful by donating organs and giving new lease of life to the needy.

Advances in medical technology and science have made organ procurement, or the search and transfer of organs and tissue from one body to another a debatable issue. The Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 allows relatives and strangers on consideration of affection to donate organs.

Donors are prohibited by law from receiving “valuable consideration” in exchange for their gift. So, its scope is restrictive. Shaken by recurrent scandals, the Central government has proposed to notify new rules under the Act.

Major religions willingly recognize that removal of organs for transplantation not as desecration of the body, but instead as an ethical, morally good act- attention can be turned towards cultural and religious perspectives on the procurement policy, rather than transplantation itself. Even if under the Hindu tradition, cremating the body is based on the belief that it becomes literally untouchable after death, there is evidence that the use of the corpse for donation for the betterment of another’s life is not prohibited. Most of us, for deep-seated psychological and cultural reasons, are unwilling to contemplate our own deaths and the circumstances of our bodies after death. A study conducted by Dr. M Goyal in 2002 in Chennai revealed that 71% of paid kidney donors were female and 96% of all donors sold a kidney just to pay off debts.

The recent proposal of the Health Minister to introduce the concept of Presumed Consent raises many questions. How can all patients be considered potential organ donors after death in the absence of expressed objection by them? It excludes the family from a critical decision. It cannot be supposed to control illegal transplantations. The existence and success of such a concept is evident in countries like Singapore, France, Italy and Switzerland. But it may not be good for a developing nation like India, where money beckons the poor and weak. If the dying can’t get organs from the dead, they will illegally acquire them from the living.

Unwilling organ harvest from poor, no medical attention and compensation to donors and no check on unauthorized hospitals and nursing homes are the major problems in the absence of strict legal provisions. Patriya Tansuhaj and Jim McCullough found that international human organ trade is essentially the dark side of international business.

Keith Rigg, a consultant transplant surgeon at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust condemned the practice and warned of a definite risk of death for transplant donors. The British Transplantation Society considers donation of organs for any kind of personal gain, such as ‘paying off debts’, to be unethical. Professor Maqsood Noorani says “Everyone benefits from transplant surgery except the donor. The donor is never appreciated; live donors are heroes – they deserve a medal.” Commercialization of organ transfer would likely be prejudiced against the poor, may lead to quality problems, would provide an economic incentive to shorten human lives, and would likely tend over time to drive out genuinely charitable giving.

Arthur Matas, Professor of surgery, University of Minnesota has suggested that a regulated system would include payment made by the government, allocation of kidneys (by predefined criteria) so that every candidate has an opportunity for a transplant, full donor evaluation, long-term follow-up and treatment of the donor with dignity and appreciation for providing a life-saving gift. Dr David Hickey, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin gave a better option in place of ‘presumed consent’ – what is known as ‘required request’. With this alternative, hospitals are under legal obligation to inform families of patients whose brains are dead or dying, but with some healthy organs, of the opportunity to donate.

If our estate, body, or personal property were distributed after our death without adherence to our personal wishes, most would find that an unacceptable disposition. But ask yourself one simple question-is there any living being, essence, or character entombed within a corpse …?

Bhumika Sharma