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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Let’s Talk About S**

Yoga, the Kama Sutra and Bollywood are three of the sexiest products of Indian culture; actresses in the film industry thrive off their internationally recognised sex appeal and ancient Hindus had penned a guide to maximising sexual experiences long before many other civilisations had discovered the written word. In theory therefore, Indians should be as sexually liberal as their culture portrays them to be. Yet earlier this year the Indian Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, suggested a new values-based approach to sex education which removes sex (or the more ‘culturally acceptable’ s**) from the picture almost entirely. Not only does his vision repudiate the emotional and social importance of sex but it brushes over basic scientific principles, virtually closeting the topic altogether.

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Thankfully his proposal was almost immediately dubbed as ridiculous and young professionals across the country formed a strong opposition. Parodies of ‘government approved’ initiatives appeared online and newspapers openly mocked his Victorian mentality. What many failed to acknowledge however was how poor the current level of sex education is. Here in England, children aged ten or eleven years of age are taught about the reproductive system and more information is disclosed each academic year regarding sex and relationships, based on what the Department of Education has deemed age appropriate. Although this in itself is controversial, this scheme was introduced in response to alarming (and now well known) statistics which showed that the UK has one of the highest teen pregnancy and teen abortion rates in Europe, thereby warranting a drastic intervention. It was justified to conservatives with the argument that if teenagers cannot be trusted to abstain from sexual activity, it is surely more sensible to prepare them for a healthy sex life by equipping them with trusted knowledge on contraception and answering their questions in a safe environment.

In India, this permissive approach couldn’t be further from reality. There are clear discrepancies in the delivery of sex education across schools in India; whilst some schools have followed the World Heath Organisation’s advice that sex education should be taught to children from the age of twelve in order to prevent increasing HIV transmission by promoting safe sex, very few engage in the same level of teaching that has been adopted in the western world. A common theme, which unifies the various Indian sub-cultures and traditions, is the importance of chastity before marriage. This underlying value helps sustain the rationalisation that sex education is wrong, as it may spur the youth to believe pre-marital sexual relations are morally acceptable.

This leaves the future of Indian society in a precarious position. It would be unreasonable to suggest that all of India’s current issues result from an aversion to discuss sex openly but it is interesting to consider just how many problems it might explain. Would the population grow as rapidly if women knew how, where and why to access contraception? Would women be seen as inferior to men?

Adolescence is as awkward a time in India as it is in Europe, however the difference in India is that there is a severe shortage of responsible adults willing to explain the changes your body undergoes. I presume it is still uncomfortable for parents and teachers here in England but there is at least an understanding that by holding these positions of power, you are morally obliged to prepare children for what will be an incredibly vulnerable time, both physically and psychologically. This does of course include that favourite talk about ‘the birds and the bees’ that every parent and secondary school teacher thinks of with fondness.

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Pornography, unlike reliable counsel on sex and relationships, is easily accessible and downloadable; and therefore the only source of information for many young Indians. It usually shows a woman (or women) following the whims of their partner and submitting herself to his every need, which can be crass, aggressive and undignified. Feminists would not object so heavily to porn if it depicted both the male and female parties as having equal power as they engage in whatever sexual activities that take their fancy. What porn actually does is add fire to the pre-existing gender stereotypes that tarnish social mentality.

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Pornography does not demonstrate real life but as we are often told here in the west, it provides an escape. It is by its nature a chance to live out fantasies. In a country where sex and the reality of relationships are not openly discussed however, should crude fantasies be the only way sex is portrayed? Women are exhibited as submissive sex objects, so young men are deluded into believing that women should embrace that role. Young women are not told anything different and are therefore deceived into embracing it. Porn is made by men, for men, and the lack of assertive females in the industry is painfully apparent. Even in mainstream Bollywood, Emran Hashmi – an actor with an infamous reputation for producing smutty films for the general audience – will star in film after film and engage in risqué scenes with a different C-list actress, who is taking her first shot at the big screen. Each actress eventually withers away following a torrent of controversy but Hashmi continues to pave his career, relatively unscathed from the negative PR that shrouds his films.

Pornography does not only entrap young women but it also fails to liberate young men, who spend more time alone in front of a screen than interacting with other human beings in a sensate dynamic. Both genders are allocated unhealthy roles in relationships and because there is little alternative guidance available in India, they may unknowingly adopt the example pornography gives. We often speak of the advances made during the digital age. It is possible however that instead of shifting towards gender equality, a fundamental lack of sex and relationship education is further engraining archaic gender clichés into today’s youth and consequently delaying social progression.

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.

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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.