The belief that organs will come in handy during afterlife is one of the many reasons why Indians are the worst body donors, saysÂ Ketan Tanna
Shiva in his famous fury beheaded son Ganesha and then replaced his human head with an elephant’s, in what was perhaps the first recorded case of organ transplant in India. But that was another time. Organ transplants in India have since become a bit difficult. There are simply not enough donors. For every 20 million Indians, only one donates his body for its organs to be embedded in a living needy. In Spain, 640 in every 20 million donate their bodies.
It is not merely lack of awareness that has made India parsimonious about donating its organs. In a country where the custom of hanging lemonchillies outside the door to ward off evil draws respect, organ donation is naturally seen as being unfair to the soul. Most Hindus continue to believe that if they lose the body, they will need rebirth. More imaginative sects say that by donating an organ one will be reborn without it.
Muslims too have an opinion on the matter. “The body is a property of the Allah,” says Maulana Mehmood Dariyabadi, general secretary of the All India Ulema Council. He however doesn’t write it off completely. “Exceptions can be made if a person is in dire need of an organ.” Well, a man in need or an organ is usually in a dire need of the organ.
Christians, usually associated as a progressive society, is not untouched either. Father Anthony Charanghat, editor of The Examiner and a respected name in the Christian community, says that although Christians are not allowed to mutilate their bodies, organ donation is not forbidden, provided the person is brain “stem dead,” a stage when all body functions cease permanently. With or without the excuses of religious dogma, this is a nation that is clearly fearful of letting go of its bodies. In the past ten years, India had just 963 organ transplants: 850 kidneys, 50 hearts and 60 livers, two pancreas and one lung. In that period just about 3,000 kidneys and 30 livers were donated. In organ and cadaver donation, India is at the very bottom of the heap.
Other nations, even thirdworld countries are evidently more generous. But there is hope. As with any social change, the initiative has to come from within. Religious bodies and scholars are now looking at the issue laterally. They are opening up to the idea. According to Dr Sunil Shroff of Multi Organ Harvesting Aid Network Foundation, a survey found that almost 70% of Hindus and Christian were now willing to consider organ donation, and 58% of Muslims.
Dr Shroff adds that the Jain community in the state of Gujarat, the biggest organ donor in the country, leads in eye donation and has started contributing other organs too. Voluntary organisations are imploring Indians to lend their bodies after they are gone. Bangalore-based Foundation For Organ Retrieval And Transplant Education, has motivated 22 families to donate organs of their dear ones, and in the process saved 42 kidney patients, two liver and two heart patients.
For some reason, in India, eye-donation is the most glamourous type. Remember the famous social message advertisements on eye donation by Aishwarya Rai? As a result, eye donation is gathering momentum. According to Dr S Natarajan, chairman and medical director, Eye Bank Association of India, the current cornea procurement rate in India is 22,000 per year, which is still way off requirement. But if other organs find even this level of generosity, thousands of lives could be saved every year.