Organ donations and dropped catches !!

Some time back the sports section of the Times of India, carried a small story at the bottom of the page about our 83 World Cup winning team’s famed wicket keeper Syed Kirmani – first pledging his eyes for organ donation and then very soon retracting from his pledge ! Before we discuss about the possible reasons and the implications of his seemingly uncharacteristic U turn (for Kirmani was always known for his gritty perseverance in difficult cricketing situations – especially that unforgettable stand during Kapil Paaji’s monumental 175 not out against Zimbabwe, world cup ’83), let’s understand what does such a pledge for Organ Donation actually imply.

To tell the truth, besides the fact that the pledge denotes your truthful endorsement of the cause of organ donation, it doesn’t ensure anything else. Celebrities pledging for organ donation is just a method to raise awareness and encourage people to come forward for organ donation.

The eye or organ bank for whom one pledges his organ has no method to find out exactly when its services are required unless someone close to the ‘person who’s in a position to donate his/her organs’ (:)) informs them. So it is actually, only upto the relatives of the deceased person who have to take the initiative and contact the eye bank or the relevant organ retrieval authorities within the first six hours of the persons death in case of eyes, and at a time when the person has been declared ‘brain dead’ but is still on life support for a possible successful ‘organ donation’.

It takes true courage, commitment and presence of mind on the part of the close blood relatives of a person to enable the honoring of the ‘pledge’ of organ donation.In short my pledge means nothings unless the relatives present at the time of my death call the organ retrieval team personals and give their duly signed consent for my pledge to fructify.

In our society at present, even though we have Ganeshji as the omnipresent mascot of a successful organ transplant from times immemorial, organ donation is still not a natural thing and requires some convincing and counselling. Its really heartening to witness a steady rise in the number of families coming forward to donate organs of their loved ones.

There are a significant number of other factors besides the ‘timely’ action of the near and dear ones present at the time death of a ‘pledger’, which determine the suitability of a persons organs for transplantation, like presence of certain ailments/infections, duration of ailments, previous surgeries and so on. What I imply is that even after the best of intentions of the person and his/her close relatives and the timely action of the later overcoming the emotions of the profound loss, many times the organs donation may not go through and even if it does, the retrieved organs may be ineligible for successful transplantation. Without going into the technical aspects of a successful retrieval and a successful transplant later, let us confine ourselves at present, till just the event of completion of the pledger’s pledge.

Having performed several tissue retrievals and transplants myself I am aware of the level of commitment required on the part of the team of counselors working at odd hours,in unpleasant conditions trying to present uncomfortable choices to emotionally charged and labile relatives. Many times they had to bear the brunt of hostile unwilling and uninitiated relatives of potential donors. But each such outburst which would be enough to discourage any not so motivated counselor was just a stepping stone for motivated team I had the fortune of being a part of. Strangely, each such ugly spat seemed to have a positive effect on all those around who were, in that moment, not directly involved. Each time we went to a semi-rural outskirt part of the city for cornea-retrieval the counsellor  always made it a point to involve and demonstrate the process to all who were curious, slowly sensitizing them. It has been due to efforts of many such devoted and committed individuals that from a very long waiting periods for cornea transplants large part of the country not only have zero waiting but are able to timely supply cornea through out the length and breadth of our country. Our eye banks have provided valuable training for retrieval of tissues and organ donation counselling to health care professionals from many other countries including several of our neighbours.

Now as per the TOI report, which quoted Mr.Kirmani as saying-“I am an emotional and sentimental person. I was so touched… that I pledged to donate my eyes.However, I might not be able to honour my commitment due to some religious values. And not everyone in India honours their pledge. But it shouldn’t deter others in coming forward to donate their eyes.”

Speechless ? Stumped ? Organ donation is a ‘religious value’? It certainly was, in the past but one expects things to change especially when receiving a donated organ was never considered a religious value issue !!

How come organ donation is not a ‘religious value’ issue in countries like Iran ,Bangladesh,etc.? In fact Iran’s organ donation rules are considered as ideal by many ! So what Mr.Kirmani has said is certainly not expected from an educated, affluent, famous, loved and revered sports hero of the largest secular democracy of the world.I really wish he had taken care to elaborate on his ‘religious values’ which come at cross hairs with organ donation.

In my view, what Mr.Kirmani has done is worse than ‘match-fixing’ ! It is a body-blow to the efforts to promote organ donation amongst the people who share Mr.Kirmani’s religious values. By first publicly pledging and then publicly giving religion as the reason for retracting his pledge Mr.Kirmani has yet again enabled illogical dogmatic beliefs to triumph over humane values of  ‘insaniyat’, his religiosity triumphed over humanity !!

Alas, is it a case of a lost match or can we come together to turn around an unforgettably bad performance by our country’s former champion wicketkeeper ?

-Saurabh Agrawal

the author is MS,DNB in Ophthalmology and a practicing eye surgeon.