Imagine, if you can, being in the unique position of being the only person in the world who can help another human get to live a normal productive life. You’d help wouldn’t you?
As a species, humans are capable of being the kindest and most generous, giving animals on the planet — you give a homeless person enough to eat or get a nice bed for the night, you donate a monthly amount to your chosen charity, you make sacrifices all the time that enable others to achieve something meaningful, and you offer to give others anything they want, even if it costs ‘an arm and a leg’…
But what if it did just that — would you give a needy person one of your limbs? Luckily, that’s not a decision you have to make quite yet, as medical science hasn’t (to the best of our knowledge) successfully carried out this kind of transplant at scale. But they have perfected the transplanting of hearts, liver, kidney, lungs, pancreas, small bowel, corneas, and tissues, including bone. So the question now becomes: “Would you give a needy person your lungs or corneas?”
Is that a procedure too far, and if so, where do you draw the line in making humanitarian gestures?
This thinking has come about for me because I went down a rabbit hole on Twitter this week that was the saddest and yet most uplifting collection of personal stories I have ever seen — so many people opening up about their emotional stress and grief at losing a loved one, and yet fighting against the contradictory social constraints that make us jealously guard the remains of someone who has died, who’s earthly presence has no need of functioning body-parts.
These were the heartbreaking stories of life, love, death and loss, but they were also the stories of the tangible results of the most amazing generosity that people are capable of expressing, even in their darkest moments; stories of lives reborn, people given the gift of sight, of breathing without mechanical aids, of being able to leave the house for the first time in years to feel the sunlight on their faces, the ultimate gift of life.
Common sense tells us that it is perfectly natural to offer the no-longer-required organs of the recently deceased to someone who really won’t survive without a transplant.
Wrapped up in our own personal struggles, of course it’s a decision that is never easy to make. Whether on grounds of morality, ethics, religion, society constructs or just simply the pressure of having to deal with sudden tragedy, we often put matters like this to the back of our thinking, preferring not to decide — until that decision is taken out of our hands by the natural deterioration of the available organs.
But, if you understand that those organs have the power to literally transform lives, you must also understand that by not making them available, you are perhaps condemning another person to a really bleak and uncertain future.
So why not take that decision out of the hands of those you leave behind?
Everyone has the choice as to whether or not they donate their organs after they die, and by becoming an organ donor they can greatly enhance or even save the life of someone in need.
Choosing to become a donor can be as simple as carrying an organ donor card, or requesting your wishes to be added to your ID card data, but many countries around the world are negating the need for that by making organ donation an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt in’ process by which it is assumed that your organs will become available after your death unless otherwise stated. These countries include France, Spain, Austria and Belgium.
You don’t even need to worry about pre-existing health issues, as specialist healthcare professionals decide in each individual case whether a person’s organs and tissue are suitable for donation. They ensure that donors are treated with the greatest care and respect during the removal of organs and tissue for donation and only those organs and tissue specified by the donor and agreed with the family will be removed.
It’s important to note that throughout the process, your faith and beliefs will always be respected.
The UAE, like many other nations, allows transplantation of human organs and tissues from both living donors and the deceased in accordance with the provisions of Federal Decree Law No. 5 of 2016 on the Regulation of Human Organs and Tissue Transplantation, which states that anyone in the UAE, regardless of nationality, can become a donor or recipient of an organ during a transplant surgery and the option will be linked to each individual’s Emirates ID.
The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention app has a section where you can register as an organ donor, which I did just a few months ago. The programme has so far helped to save the lives of more than three hundred patients, here and around the region.
So now we reach the heart of the matter — organ donation is a precious gift that saves lives, but the matter is extremely complex. No-one wants to undermine the dignity of the deceased or the rights of family members dealing with an emotional rollercoaster — organ donation is in that awkward place that exists somewhere between life and death — a dilemma for sure, but one that can be mitigated by making a decision today that avoids someone else, perhaps less able to deal with the subject, having to make it later. A decision I am proud to say I have made for myself, joining thousands of others registered donors in the UAE.
I’ll leave you with just one last thought: among all the distractions on the Internet, there is a photograph of a man hugging the person who received his daughter’s heart after she died –— it is worth seeking out to see how much life really is an exquisite gift.
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