Do you check the religion of your blood or organ donor?

As medical professionals, our ethics do not permit us to make a distinction between the sufferings of the individuals on basis of their artificial identities.
Do you check the religion of your blood or organ donor?
Do you check the religion of your blood or organ donor?

Bad news travels at the speed of light; good news travels like molasses -Richard Dimbleby

I was reminded of this very famous aphorism from the doyen of British journalism when, in the times when we are accustomed to mostly bad news, some good news did creep in which was not just moving and poignant but truly inspirational. And yet it seems that none of the major television networks or the mainstream media considered it worthy of their attention. The only newspaper that covered it was the Hindustan Times and that too in one of its local editions.

To understand the import of this development we would have to acquaint ourselves with a rare medical condition called Alport's Syndrome. It is a genetically inherited disorder which according to the latest epidemiological data occurs in one out of 62000 children. Typically, it affects the kidney and hearing and in later stages the eyes. When the kidney gets extensively affected, copious amount of blood is passed in the urine. In advanced stages, kidney transplant remains the only option available.

Osama, a 17-year-old boy of a farmhand from Barabanki (near Lucknow) was diagnosed with this malady. His family took him to the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Medical Institute in Lucknow where his kidneys were determined to be severely dysfunctional. Eventually a kidney transplant was suggested.

As the parents themselves were found to be afflicted with this disorder, they were ruled out as potential donors. The other relatives completely abandoned him as they feared they would be called upon to consider donating their kidney. The family were at their wit's end. The boy was being kept alive on dialysis.

It was at this stage that the family of a 27-year-old who had died stepped in. They decided to donate his kidney which was in a fit state to be transplanted. The operation was performed on July 31 and the latest medical bulletin would suggest that it has been successful. Osama is making progress.

Remarkable though the story is, it is made even more remarkable when we consider the religion of the family that donated their kin's kidney. They are devout Hindus who believed that through this act, they would be able to witness their kin in Osama. 

I have myself been a regular blood donor and often posed this very question to those who assert primacy of a religious or racial or even clannish identities. It all seems so futile. 

As medical professionals, our ethics do not permit us to make a distinction between the sufferings of the individuals on basis of their artificial identities which in any case have no bearing on the disease process.  The sad fact that is acknowledged nowadays is that our profession has been lax in its adherence to the ethical philosophies and precepts that have propelled it through centuries and provided it a moral pedestal. 

I believe that we as physicians are uniquely placed to appreciate that human suffering is a common denominator which serves to unite the entire humankind more so than any other philosophy-religious, caste, racial or national. We encounter this very basic fact in our everyday practice. 

It is therefore surprising that we as physicians have not taken a more robust stand against the philosophies that serve to divide us. I am sure this very noble act of the donor's family would at the most find only a grudging approval from the hucksters of his religion; and I am equally confident that the fundamentalist Neanderthals of the recipient's religion may have some reservations as well. I seem to recall a sermon by a doctor turned tele evangelist who declared that while it was permitted to maintain limited social contact with people subscribing to the other religions, intimacy of any form was strictly prohibited. 

This episode should give them a reason to pause and introspect. And I hope many more such instances are highlighted as they would prove to be a more effective counter to the divisive propagators of religion than any academic debate. When I had published a book 'The Case for Discarding Organised Religion' a few years ago, I was subjected to a lot of harsh criticism mostly from those who regarded religious identity as over and above all other identities. Here is an instance where we have incontrovertible evidence when human identity triumphed over all else-and that is what I had argued in my book. I am not against maintaining religious affiliations but they should never supersede fundamental human obligations.

I should like to conclude with two basic appeals. One is to everyone to consider organ donation as our human obligation. I have myself been a Donor Card holder for over 35 years and a firm believer in the adage that the strongest tribute to the departed is to help the living. Our country has not been a major beneficiary of organ transplants despite the excellence of tertiary care at certain centres primarily because of paucity of organ donation. 

And my second appeal is to the members of the Fourth Estate. Whenever such instances emerge, please make sure that they are given the attention they deserve. In these troubled times, they serve to restore faith in the fundamental human nobility.

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