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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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2014: My “Year in Review”

Every other post on my Facebook News Feed during the last week has been a ‘Year in Review’: a random assortment of pictures with the statement, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Although I was tempted to share mine, I soon realised that a few photos (of me looking markedly more attractive than I do on a daily basis) barely broke the surface of what 2014 has meant to me. My closest friends and family in particular will testify that I have changed more over the last twelve months than anyone could have anticipated, so here are a few of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way:

  • Bhangra is not just a dance – I’m starting with this because virtually all the photos that Facebook considered worthy enough to summarise my year were Bhangra-related. When your captain or choreographer tells you that in order to do a routine justice, you need to be able to sprint for eight minutes… they’re not kidding. Although I look back on my first performance with disappointment for not pushing myself more, I do not for a moment regret any of the time I spent with the beautiful girls on our university team. Having joined a team in London later this year, I quickly learnt that the sense of ‘family’ I felt during the run up to my first competition wasn’t exclusive to our team in Southampton. In just a few short months I’ve danced better, laughed harder and received more support than I could have predicted – because the tears, sweat and pain that characterise a Bhangra journey also happen to forge stronger relationships between people than one might possibly expect.

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  • My sewing machine gives me more joy than Oceana – 2014 was the year that I outgrew nights out. Whilst I will always be up for dancing like a fool with my favourite people until 4 a.m., I’ve realised that chit-chat with borderline strangers who I’ll likely never see again just isn’t my cup of tea. As a fresher I would be out on most days, talking to everyone and fully enjoying the freedom university gave me. I would often be complimented for ‘knowing everyone’ but as a fourth year, I’ve only stayed in touch with a tiny fraction of the people I once spoke to regularly. In my own experience, clubbing brings new people together but in a very superficial way. These days I would rather sing-along (out of tune and as loud as my lungs will permit) to Disney’s Greatest Hits in someone’s living room, than pretend to understand House music in a dress that doesn’t sanction any kind of movement.

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  • Sometimes you have no choice but to cut people out – this has probably been my most selfish year. I have always been a people pleaser, prioritising someone else’s happiness over my own and obsessing far too much over what people think of me. I have learnt however that if you show a person kindness but they cannot reciprocate the effort when you need it, they aren’t worthy of your time. If they actively hurt you but lack the courage to apologise, they aren’t worthy of anyone’s time. I often used to blame myself for the misconduct of others but now I appreciate that some friendships do sour and it is occasionally better not to attempt fixing something beyond repair.
  • There is no shortcut for hard work – throughout my degree, I put in minimal effort and gained average results in return. This year, I worked myself to the bone and my exam results reflected it. Although I went too far and alienated myself from both my friends and family for two months, I know now that natural ability and talent are simply a starting point. The only way of guaranteeing success in anything is by devoting sufficient time and effort to an individual goal, whether it be your studies or a sport.

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  • Family is the only constant in life – I think this has been the biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year. I often used to focus on the faults of different members of my family and I definitely took people for granted. In difficult times however there is no greater comfort than a hug from your mum, regardless of how old you are. Drifting from friends is a natural part of growing up and bears no reflection on either of your personalities. Indeed, people often say that the best friends in life are those with whom you can pick up from where you last left things – regardless of how much time has passed. In this sense, my family have been the best friends I will ever have. I might not speak to my aunt/brother/cousin for a week or two but I’ll be able to ask them for advice without any need for formality and they’ll give me an honest and valid response at a moment’s notice.

As a self-confessed master of procrastination, I shall end this post here and attempt to get back to my work. I’ve only really touched on the little path of self-discovery that I unknowingly paved for myself as 2014 progressed. Having shared a few of the details however, I can at least confidently declare that it really has been a great year and I would like to thank you all for being part of it.