Organ Donation: the Ultimate Service to Others?

The prospect of having your organs harvested within moments of your death isn’t a particularly pleasant thought, so it’s a hardly a surprise that conversations about organ donation don’t crop up regularly around the dinner table. It is normal and natural to become preoccupied in the daily minutiae of life and I think most people would be concerned if ideas of death frequented your thoughts. However human nature is such that our responsibilities as members of society can often be disregarded in favour of our responsibilities to ourselves. Considering organ donation is therefore challenging for two reasons: (1) you need to think about dying and (2) you need to think selflessly.

busy-blurry-people

I am a fierce advocate of organ donation for many reasons, a few of which I’ll touch on here. Trying to acknowledge all the moral, ethical, religious, scientific and philosophical arguments in support of or against organ donation would however take far too long, so instead my focus will be on a statistic that fits in better with what I understand:

“66% of Black, Asian and some Ethnic Minority (BAEM) communities living in the UK refuse to give permission for their loved ones organs to be donated compared to 43% of the rest of the population.”

This is fairly logical if you take organ donation to be a Western concept. In first world countries, where access to healthcare is presumed rather than fortuitous, organ or tissue transplants are within the realm of possibility for patients in whom other treatment options have failed. In less developed healthcare systems however, diagnosing the severity of a disease and assessing a patient’s prognosis are not as easily achievable and opportunities for transplantation are as rare as surgical resources; hence those of BAEM nationalities are less likely to have previously encountered organ donation. Indeed a lack of knowledge about something so ‘unnatural’ would possibly inspire fear rather than altruism and thus, this statistic can in part be explained.

The diversity of religions within BAEM communities may also account for the lack of enthusiasm towards organ donation. As such surgical techniques are modern revelations, significantly older religions did not specifically address the issue, leaving holy scriptures open to interpretation. The idea that your material body is merely a vessel for the immortal soul applies in both Sikhism and Hinduism, as does the notion of service to others; both of which strongly support organ donation. Buddhism states that whilst great care should be given to a dying person, if it is that person’s wish to relieve someone else’s suffering, there is no injunction against organ donation. It is less clear in Islam, as the human body is seen as inviolable both in life and in death; however the idea that ‘necessities override prohibition’ (al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat) may be applied in this sense to promote the preservation of other human lives, if the personal cost is bearable.

one_religion

Although it is therefore easy to assume that following a natural course of death is what your religion would permit you to do, in some cases scripture arguably suggests that the principles of selfless giving and conservation of life should play a greater role in your deliberation. Donating your organs is ultimately a personal decision but the lack of debate within religious forums, coupled with a wider lack of education on organ donation across the country, has prevented well-informed opinions from being constructed. Organ donation is also far from glamorous and a British preoccupation with propriety has (more often than not) blunted awareness of important issues. I am confident however that if you approached a doctor or religious leader with your questions or concerns, they would be more than willing to help. Not only would you be equipped with the knowledge to formulate your own opinion but you would be in a better position to help others come to a decision they’re also comfortable making.

And why is it that I think organ and tissue donation should be something that everyone considers? I am the first to admit that I can be selfish and spoilt but there is a quote by Muhammad Ali that encompasses the ethos I want to live by: “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”. I imagine that every person reading this blog, if given the choice, would do what they could to alleviate suffering and help those in need. It is however difficult to think of things in an abstract way; I have seen from my own experiences that it is not until we are forced to deal with disease in the context of someone we love, that we consider how we could prevent others from bearing the same burden. Yet we forget that we are all composed of materials that could save another person’s life. Donating your bone marrow could save a leukaemia patient. Donating your blood could save a mother from fatal complications during childbirth.

32913

Without wading too far into the murky waters of bioethics, there’s also a strong socio-economic argument to be made. I would never condone the Hunger Games-esque organ lottery proposed by the consequentialist John Harris but I do believe that our contributions to society should extend beyond the taxes we pay. We are fortunate enough to live in a time where medical advances have rendered many diseases obsolete and in a society where access to healthcare is free. We do not hesitate to use that which is available to us, so it seems fair to ensure the same is available for others.

Instead of rounding this post off myself, I’ll leave you with a few links so you can draw your own conclusions:


On 2nd May 2015, I’ll be taking part in the Isle of Wight Challenge with members of my Bhangra team. We’re fundraising for Delete Blood Cancer UK, a charity which aims to find a bone marrow donor for each person in need of one. Any donations would be much appreciated, no matter how large or small – thank you!

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Advertisements

Great Expectations

It’s hardly a secret that some Asian parents have a notorious reputation for expecting a great deal of their children; it is a feature of Eastern parenting been parodied, persecuted and sometimes even praised. A catalogue of acceptable careers as devised by generations of Asian parents who ‘definitely know better than you’ includes:

  • Medicine / Dentistry / Pharmacy
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Economics / Business / Maths / Accounting

The list for many Asian parents ends here. Telling your father that you wish to study music or the arts is often simply not an option and many children are indoctrinated with the idea that pursuing science or vocational degrees is the only guarantee of success. Languages are particularly controversial; I imagine that expressing a desire to study French or Spanish at university would have quickly been rejected with the reasoning that I could learn Punjabi free. Although many parents have adopted a more liberal approach and instead encourage their children to define their career paths by what they enjoy, in my personal experience only a rare and lucky minority can claim to have parents that fall into the latter category.

As parents pray that their children will forge careers in high-paying and highly-competitive fields, it leaves the younger generation under a great deal of pressure. As a child I never dreamt of being a ballerina or an astronaut (albeit for a while I was utterly resolute that I would one day be a dolphin); they were far-fetched careers without tangible benefits. Instead I focused on my literacy, numeracy and colouring in homework (always endeavouring to stay strictly within the lines) because I had been advised time and time again by everyone older than me that doing well in school was the only thing that would get me far in life.

learningtips-for-helping-kids-and-teens-with-homework-and-study-habitsspelling

There’s no point denying there’s a certain credibility to this fact but I wonder how beneficial it is to give young children constant reminders of their need to excel in their education, particularly as many parents forget that straight A*s aren’t achievable by everyone, despite their best efforts. A well known joke of the child that rushes home to tell their parents that they got 97% in an exam, only to be asked what happened to the other 3% rings too true.  I, like many others, genuinely dreaded marks less than 90% and I almost pity the teachers that had to mark my work, as the high expectations I had of myself were clearly evident.

We all know how vulnerable, impressionable and susceptible to environmental stress children are but when it comes to education, this all seems to be disregarded. Government assessments now start from the delicate of age of seven and a wonderful letter penned by a primary school headteacher outlines just how little these tests tell us. Nevertheless the stage at which children discover stress seems to decrease with each generation. The highest priorities still lie with studies of course, hence the thousands of pounds many parents now invest into their three-year-old’s schooling but if acing exams isn’t enough, children are now expected to take up a musical instrument, play a county-level sport and have a burgeoning group of friends. Many of my youngest cousins seem to have busier schedules than me and while there are very real concerns of how much time some groups of children spend in front of the television, I worry more about the children who don’t even have time for television in between their extracurricular activities and supplementary tuition.

The pressure originates from our families and the competitive culture that made the four-thousand mile journey from sub-continental Asia with our ancestors. Cars, big houses and jewellery count for a lot but the absolute measure of success lies with how well you raise your children. Eventually parental pressure evolves into a pressure we place on ourselves. No one told me to revise for sixteen hours a day in the month before my last set of exams and indeed, my parents actively discouraged it as it became clearer that my health was suffering as consequence. Yet the need to do well has become so ingrained that I was willing to sacrifice basic requirements such as sleep and food and I found myself in a self-imposed exile from fun.

Goodness-Gracious-Me-2014

These pressures are by no means confined to members of Asian minorities and without providing spoilers, Dead Poets Society explores these issues and demonstrates that there is much more to life beyond a classroom. It also depicts Neil – the film’s alternate protagonist – who is unable to bear his father’s hopes for his prospective career in medicine, when his enjoyment and talents lie in theatre. Society expects to hear and frowns upon stories of failed actors and musicians but we turn a blind eye and even offer sympathy to the numbers of medical school dropouts and failed investment bankers because it seems as though attempting to succeed in a the latter professions is worth more than in the former – a concept which confounds me. If your talents lie in the arts and not in a laboratory, who is anyone to compare the value of two entirely different sets of skills?

large_hCPvO18vdEntYPH05sZnfUBAIid

I love my degree and I am pleased to say that I chose to study medicine despite my parents better efforts to discourage me from it but in truth, I only ever really considered vocations from the ‘Unofficial Asian Career Guide’. I expect that if there was a recipe for success, it would plainly state that equal measures of passion and ability are required. There is no assurance of success in anything but if your heart doesn’t lie in whatever you choose to pursue, then there is a great deal of potential for failure. Perhaps it would be prudent therefore to stop limiting the potential of the younger generations by ushering them along predetermined paths and instead encouraging them to forge a path for themselves in whatever their imagination conceives.

Do Gaysians Exist?

The “gaysian” – or gay asian – is a rare creature. Often seen parading through bazaars in eccentric and over-accessorised garments, you will frequently hear him use words such as “fierce” and “fabulous” to express his delight when coming across the season’s latest sherwani. It is widely accepted that their uncontrollable attraction to members of the same sex prevents gaysians from maintaining platonic relationships and it is likely that any gaysian you encounter will find his male peers irresistible. Beware, however, as a plethora of undisputed scientific evidence has shown that homosexuality is indeed contagious; you must therefore avoid too much close contact, lest you too wish to fall into an incurable pit of flamboyancy and emotional instability. 

The above is what many sub-continental asians would consider to be an accurate definition of homosexuality. It is of course absolute rubbish, fabricated by narrow-minded individuals with congenital homophobia. Yet a lack of exposure to openly gay and lesbian asians has prevented this perception from evolving into a truer image. Why is it therefore that so few people have come out? The answer is quite obvious but difficult to admit; it ultimately comes down to two factors:

  1. Sexuality is taboo – until recently, a kiss-on-the-lips would be verging on pornographic in Bollywood cinema. Parents rarely broach the topic of sexuality with their children but from their perspective, as these things are only relevant after marriage, is there any need? It seems as though asian elders are endemically prude, leaving little open to discussion for the younger generations.
  2. Male + female = baby – procreation is classically the main goal of life and marriage. As this can only occur in a heterosexual relationships, homosexuality is naturally out of the question. A man wants his wife to pop out sons (another issue entirely) to continue the family name and inherit his wealth. If those sons don’t want wives, the family line stops there and alas, they have failed to fulfil the asian paradigm.

1117702_EastEnders_Syed_christian     East is East     Bend It Like Beckham

These are old views often addressed in British-asian media (Bend It Like Beckham, East is East, Eastenders) and thankfully, the majority of our generation holds different opinions. Even our parents’ generation is demonstrating flexibility that we wouldn’t have necessarily believed unless we had been the subjects. Amusing stories of parents’ attempts at “the talk” have frequented conversations amongst my friends but given that their own parents presumably quarantined the subject, they deserve endless praise for even trying and simultaneously pioneering a much-needed cultural shift.

Despite moves in the right direction, homophobia is still rife. The reason I chose to adresss this topic now is because last week, I read a news article that made me furious. Jasvir Ginday, a 29 year-old IT specialist from Birmingham, strangled Varkha Rani, his 24 year-old newlywed wife, with a metal pipe and then cremated her remains in a garden incinerator because she threatened to “expose” him as gay. Of course, only a monster could be capable of such atrocities but the stinging reality is that his fear of being outed eclipsed any reason or moral sense.

Although attitudes are changing, they clearly haven’t changed enough. Last year the Indian Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which was introduced during British rule) thereby re-criminalising homosexual acts. Not only did this adversely affect homosexuals living in India but it had wider repercussions on non-resident Indians, who feel an obligation to uphold their heritage and culture whilst living abroad. Now that Indian society dictates that homosexuality is a criminal act, it leaves NRIs in an uncomfortable position where their decision to accept their child’s homosexuality in England may be met with backlash “back home”.

Thankfully the Indian Supreme Court has marginally redeemed itself. Across India in homes where celebrations are occurring, Khusreh (or hijras) – transgender individuals – are typically invited to attend the “after parties” and provide entertainment by singing and dancing, though many are also forced to earn income as beggars and sex workers. Earlier this week however they were recognised as a third gender, thereby granting them legal sanctity; a significant step to demarginalise them and improve their quality of life. This sort of progress is precisely what will give LGBT individuals the confidence to come out and have any hope of being accepted by their asian communities.

hijra

As you may have noticed, I have intentionally avoided a religious debate. While The Bible and Qu’ran expressly forbid homosexuality, Sikh and Hindu scriptures do not address the topic and thus they are left to be interpreted as you wish. I can therefore understand that as the Guru Granth Sahib does not provide a clear direction on homosexuality, it is difficult for practising Sikhs to know whether it’s okay to be gay. Something a Sikh (or indeed any decent human being) cannot justify however is blatant homophobia. I have literally been repulsed by the opinions and sly remarks of some Punjabis and while they are happy to declare themselves as Sikh, they forget that the intrinsic principles of equality and inclusion make our religion beautiful and that shameless prejudice taints it.

For those of you still in doubt, let me leave you with this thought. “Gaysians” exist. Homosexuality cannot be “cured” or “corrected”. If we don’t choose to accept it, gay or lesbian individuals may be forced into heterosexual marriages by societal pressures. Not only will they suffer as they closet a defining part of their identity but their partners will suffer and question their abilities to maintain a relationship. Everyone deserves a partner in whom they find comfort, love and happiness and if that partner happens to be of the same gender, who is anyone to judge.

 

A Suitable Boy

“Husband-hunting” (or “partner-pursuing”, to be more PC) is something 99.5% of girls will be guilty of at some point during their lives, whether it be a conscious action or not. While (almost) everyone enters higher education to get a degree and secure a future of professional prosperity; stories of how friends, relatives and pets met their significant others at university will also linger in the back of many minds. Today’s culture dictates that in the average degree-length of three years, you should aim to: bash out a first, scoop up an elusive graduate-job, establish yourself as a BNOC and meet the love of your life. Expectations of the ideal student are as unlikely as they are absurd but that doesn’t stop anyone from pulling all-nighters or meeting that guy your friend says is “made for you”.

blog-post-checklist

As I’ll spend a grand total of six (yes, six) years plodding through my degree, I theoretically have twice as long to attain all of the above. Many of my friends have come to accept that three years are simply not enough and have wisely chosen to extend their education and thus avoid facing reality until further notice. For many of those coming to the end of their stints as students however, only two or three of the above boxes have been ticked.

The Asian Paradox

At the tender age of 22, for the majority of people this shouldn’t pose a problem. So what if you haven’t found a job, now is the time to find yourself. So what if you’re still single, now is the time to mingle. Reason, however, seems to evade some Asian parents in these circumstances. I am always wary of over-generalisation and I don’t want to offend anyone so please take everything I say with a pinch of salt. However with the end of their degrees in sight, a few of my friends feel they have “failed” in some way as they don’t have good, respectable boyfriends to introduce to their parents on graduation day.

50365

Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. The title of this blog is inspired by Vikram Seth’s novel, which tells the story of a mother’s attempt to find “a suitable boy” for her nineteen-year-old daughter to marry. I think it is fair to say that arranged marriages are no longer the norm and while introductions are still commonplace, parents have come to accept that with their children “living out”, there’s a chance they’ll bring home a potential partner themselves. This is where things get a little confusing however and different categories of parents present themselves:

  • The Unrealistic Expectations these parents will only accept a son-in-law with royal blood… or this might as well be their only pre-requisite because chances are he won’t tick all the other boxes anyway. It’s not just caste that matters, it’s the side of the river. It’s not just a degree from Oxbridge that matters, it has to be a first. Superwoman’s video exemplifies these parents perfectly.
  • The Wedding Plans– these parents have a Hilton Hotel on hold and constantly badger their daughters about whether they’ve found a boy to fit into the proceedings. They want their daughters engaged the summer after they graduate, married a year later and will probably expect grandchildren nine months after that.
  • The Downright Denial– these parents are still stuck somewhere in the early-20th century and cannot accept that “love marriages” occur and for them, “dating” doesn’t exist. You could bring home Dr. Lawyer who models on the weekends and they wouldn’t look twice.

It’s not just parents who can be difficult. Some girls are so frantic in their attempts to find a husband-in-waiting that they forget to enjoy their time at university and spiral into a state of loneliness and self-pity. Their parents aren’t “wedding planners”, but they burden themselves with obscene pressure and fail to make the most of the time they have as free and single ladies.

If you have identified yourself or your parents as husband-hunters, then my advice would be to calm down. The average age of couples increases every wedding season and as you’re unlikely to find a guy who also wants to be married by 22, there’s no real rush. The best relationships and marriages I’ve witnessed began by chance – whether it was a well-timed introduction or a random encounter in a shopping centre. Communicate with your parents so you know what they expect and make sure you vocalise your concerns if you disagree. I am by no means an expert but wiser people than me have said the most important thing is to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Little things count for a lot and when the right man comes along, you’ll be glad you waited.