Opinion: Ethics often takes a back seat when it comes to organ transplants

Monday, June 20, 2016

by Dr Kamal Mahawar

With Sri Lanka now banning kidney transplants for all foreigners and a major Indian hospital under the spotlight for irregularities, organ transplant is once again in the media and for all the wrong reasons! Now, I do know a thing or two regarding kidney transplants in India as I used to be involved with them whilst working as a senior resident in the transplant unit at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh in 2001.

Dr Kamal Mahawar

Dr Kamal Mahawar

There is a huge shortage of organs not just in India but worldwide as the number of those needing these transplants far exceeds the supply of the organs from cadavers (brain dead donors). In India because of religious and social reasons, the supply of cadaveric organs is severely constrained. This makes living donors the only reliable pool for large numbers of organs that are needed.

However, for some very good reasons, governments in most parts of the world do not allow buying or selling of organs as this will mean there will be nothing left that poor will be able to claim as theirs, not even their own organs. Left to markets, everything will carry a price tag. Moreover, India is such a poor country that there are a large number of people who would be willing to sell their organs for a small amount of money as the choice is not between living with that organ or without it but between survival and no survival.

This has meant that there is a flourishing organ trade in India, the instances of which periodically keep surfacing in the media. The rich from not just within India but also around the world come here in search of organs and the hospitals with the most ‘efficient’ systems have the busiest organ transplant programmes. On the face of it, there are committees to ensure that ethical donations are taking place amongst biologically or emotionally related people but how on earth can these committee members be sure of the facts they vouch for is beyond my comprehension.

India is a poor country but it appears that India is not just lacking in wealth. It is also the self-pride that India desperately needs. How else could a proud nation condone becoming a hub for organs and surrogate mothers for rich foreigners? The rules meant to protect the poor have actually become the vehicle of their exploitation with full-fledged rackets operating in many parts of the country, often with the involvement of the criminals.

However, there is a race amongst doctors in India to earn more and more money. In a society that values money over all else, wealth is the only way for them to assert their dominance. In such an environment when every doctor aspires to be a business tycoon, ethics takes a back seat and the poor — well, they will continue to be exploited.

Following his graduation from Calcutta Medical College and post graduation from Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, Dr Kamal Kumar Mahawar is now a Consultant General and Bariatric Surgeon with Sunderland Royal Hospital in North East of United Kingdom. He is also an Associate Clinical Lecturer with Newcastle University and editor of renowned scientific journals. Dr Mahawar takes a passionate interest in organisation and delivery of healthcare in India and regularly writes on these topics.

Categories: OPINIONS, The Antagoniser

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