Perspectives On Organ Donation Essays Example
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In John Irving’s novel The Fourth Hand, Doris Clausen is traveling on a plane to Boston, accompanied by her dead husband’s hand, preserved on ice for transplantation to news reporter Patrick Wallingford, famous for having his hand eaten by a lion during a live television feed. Doris will let Patrick have the hand as a transplant, so long as Patrick lets her have visitation rights to the hand. They almost immediately have sex – Doris wants to get pregnant, and only lets Patrick touch her with her husband’s former hand. Taken with Doris, Patrick – who had spent most of his life up to this point leading meaningless relationships with women – finds himself striving to be what she wants him to be, which is more substantial than he has been. In this narrative, the transplantation of the hand certainly leads to a transference of desire and proves instrumental at least in the motivation for transformation. This is a far more sanguine look at transplantation in narrative than, say, Mary Shelley’s classic tale Frankenstein. While it is true that Dr. Frankenstein is using cadavers to create new life, and so running afoul of the Church’s teaching that God is the Author of life and death, he also stitches together parts of different corpses. The result is a patchwork man, horribly repulsive to all of those who see him. The fact that he is much stronger than his peers who have not been brought back from the dead through the power of electricity only adds menace to his form. The perspectives on moving organs and other body parts from one person to another has been a focus of religion and of stories for centuries.
The issues related to organ transfer and donation are not limited to fiction, of course. A national sampling of Australian emergency department clinicians found that there were significant differences in their attitudes about the whole procedure. Religious and cultural factors played a major role in forming those differences. Clinicians who belong to minority group had a much lower support for organ transfer or donation after heart-related death and harbor preconceived notions about the willingness to donate organs in families who come from particular cultural and religious backgrounds. In addition, their knowledge about the entire process, existing legislation about it and even how coroners operate provides an additional barrier. Clinicians from these groups are less likely to believe that emergency room staff even have the competence to identify possible organ donors. However, the researchers attribute this difference to educational gaps that members of this minority group have because of their relative newness to Australia (Weiland, Marck, Jelinek, Neate and Hickey), rather than simple adherence to religious dogma.
Organ donation also comprises a matter of debate among religious leaders in the United Kingdom. When the Organ Donation Taskforce reported on the possible impact of an “opt-out” system for organ donation in the UK, it was found that most faith and belief groups prefer an “opt-in” policy instead (Randhawa, Brocklehurst, Pateman, Kinsella and Parry). The difference is in the assumption of consent. With an “opt-out” policy, people have to explicitly express a desire not to have their organs donated. If they have not established a position, the assumption is that they want to donate their organs. An “opt-in” policy assumes that people have not consented to donate organs, and an explicit expression of a desire to donate must be present before organs can be harvested. One possible reason for this desire has to do with the wide spectrum of opinions on organ transplantation within the religious community. Because of the relative newness of the medical technology, the original texts that religions use do not make any mention of the process. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, for example, he didn’t make a kidney from the dust and swap out the faulty one that had sent Lazarus into the grave; instead, he simply ordered Lazarus to come forth. While the Old Testament features such logistical puzzles as the sun staying up long enough for the Israelites to beat a particular foe on the battlefield and then prevailing in another battle – but only when Moses was able to hold his hands up (when he dropped his arms, the Israelites began to lose. Eventually, he sat between two stones which held his arms up), the only time a body part transfers from one person to another is when God takes a rib from Adam to form a woman – but that’s different from the idea of a transplant. The end result of this absence of teaching means that members of different religious faiths have formed their own opinions, making it difficult to form a consensus within any religious group about an opinion regarding organ transplantation (Randhawa, et al.)
One particularly interesting figure to emerge from the research was the difference between belief in the importance of organ donation and a personal willingness to become a donor among religious leaders in Turkey. According to a study published in 2011, 90.8 percent of these leaders believed that having access to donated organs is important. However, only 57.9 percent had ever considered becoming a donor, and only 1.1 percent had ever donated (Gueden, Cetinkaya and Nacar). To be fair, in many cases, the process of donating organs begins with one’s death in many cases, but there are other situations, such as kidney and bone marrow donation, that allow for a living person to donate. The more interesting gap is the one between the belief that donation is important and a willingness to consider becoming one. However, willingness to donate was higher among men than women, and higher among imams and preachers than among other kinds of religious officials. There are still some mistaken beliefs in the general Muslim public that influenced this gap, though, such as the idea that if a person with sin dies, but donates organs, the sin in that person’s body will travel to the recipient (Gueden, et al.). This is the same sort of superstition that has led to the creation of bullets soaked in a pork-infused paint. Because Muslims are not allowed to touch pork, the theory behind these bullets is that a Muslim killed by one will go to hell because he will die without having the chance to atone for his unclean status (Simmons).
The perspectives of those who receive organ donations, as one might expect, are much different. Such poems as “Unknown Donor,” by John Savage Witham, are written from the point of view of a person who has received a new lease on life as a result of this donation. The themes in these narratives generally express a feeling of a new opportunity to live a better life, when the life that they had seemed headed to sure destruction. “Unknown Donor” is about a liver recipient who appears to have consumed so much alcohol that his liver simply could not handle it any more. The idea that a new liver could motivate a change in lifestyle, leaving the destructive habits of excess drinking behind, is a powerful one in this poem.
As with any form of technology, the ability to perform organ transplants is not inherently good or evil. Instead, it is the applications and outcomes from this process that determine whether each procedure was discretely good or evil. Consider the technology associated with splitting the atom. While on the one hand, a new form of energy was created, it also created the possibility of weapons that could not only achieve a new level of mass murder but could destroy the planet itself if enough of them were fired. Even in its beneficial uses, atomic power creates waste products that cause immense harm to the surrounding environment. In the case of organ donation and transplantation, doing so against the personal wishes of either the donor or recipient would be wrong. Even providing a financial incentive for the donor is unethical (which is why it is illegal in many countries), because it allows the exploitation of income differences. However, there are many situations in which it is an ethical practice that allows people to extend the duration and quality of their lives.
Gueden, E., Cetinkaya, F., Nacar, M. “Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Organ Donation: A
Study on Officials of Religion in Turkey.” Journal of Religion and Health 52: 439-449.
Irving, John. The Fourth Hand. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001.
Randhawa, G., Brocklehurst, A., Pateman, R., Kinsella, S., and Parry, V. “Religion and Organ
Donation: The Views of UK Faith Leaders.” Journal of Religion and Health 51: 743-751.
Simmons, T. “Jihawg Ammo: Pork-laced Bullets Designed to Send Muslims Straight ‘To Hell.’”
Huffington Post 22 June 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/22/pork-laced-bullets-designed-to-send-muslims-straight-to-hell_n_3480150.html
Weiland, T.J., Marck, C.H., Jelinek, G.A., Neate, S.L. and Hickey, B.B. “Attitudes of Australian
Emergency Department Clinicians Toward Organ and Tissue Donation: An Analysis of Cultural and Religious Influences.” Progress in Transplanation 23(3): 278-290.
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