You are listening to a programme from BBC Radio 4.
Listening to the debate on organ transplants yesterday, reminded me of a friend who is currently waiting for a donor kidney and the enormous impact his current health is having on his family. It’s sad to see how quickly a person’s health can decline in this situation, so scientific progress is always welcome. The news that researchers have injected human stem cells into pig embryos, hoping ultimately to create a pancreas made completely from human cells, has been met with some caution. But if this experiment leads to a successful transplant, it could mean developing other human organs. Some critics are concerned that such practices might create organ farms and increase animal suffering. And for them the remedy should be that we get more people to donate organs rather than use animals.
Prolonging human life and also the quality of human life lies at the heart of organ donation and transplant. This is a controversial debate in the Islamic world with many who encourage organ transplants seeing it as a medical rather than religious issue. When religion is brought into the debate, the theological obstacles there are to Muslims donating their organs in life or death are replaced by the inherent goodness in saving a life. The frequently quoted Qur’anic verse is “If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” And for many, this verse cuts through other moral complexities, encouraging them to carry donor cards and be willing to give as well as receive.
But in matters of human life and death, decisions are never simply right or wrong. For those who oppose donation, a common answer is that the human body even in death is not something to be plundered to aid scientific aspirations and that more importantly we cannot give away what we don’t own in the first place. We belong to God is a simple but powerful phrase for many. It is God who creates life and it is God who takes life. Life is his gift. They see the drive for organ transplants in post enlightenment bioethics as seductive but arrogant in its aim to transcend mortality. For many, death isn’t simply the biological demise of our physical body.
A few years ago, one of my cousins donated his kidney to his mother who had been on dialysis for a while. No one asked him for any religious explanation – we instinctively felt that what he was doing was right, an act of generosity for someone he loved. Yet in this month of Ramadan, a month of both self-denial and charity, it’s important to rethink what giving means – giving to those we love and to complete strangers, the many ways in which we can help others and if given the chance, indeed save others.