By Pamela Fayerman, Vancouver Sun
Of all religious groups, Muslims are the most resistant to organ donation, largely because they're confused about whether it's permitted within their faith, a British medical expert told delegates to an international transplantation conference in Vancouver Tuesday.
Dr. Adnan Sharif, a Muslim kidney specialist completing his training, led an international survey to find out why Muslims agree with organ donation, and would happily accept a transplant, but aren't so keen on consenting to being donors.
In his presentation to delegates at the 23rd international congress of the Transplantation Society, Sharif said nearly three-quarters of the 891 participants in the survey said they would be glad to receive an organ if needed but only 10.6 per cent of respondents were registered organ donors.
In an interview after his talk, Sharif said just over a third believed it was compatible with their Islamic beliefs. For the others, the two biggest reasons cited for being reluctant to donate was their interpretation of the Koran and the advice they heard from spiritual leaders at their local mosques.
Sharif said he has long been curious about the issue, especially because he often finds himself having to tell Muslim patients needing organ transplants that they'll have to wait twice as long as others, largely because there are far too few donors with similar ethnicity who would be good tissue matches. He said he caused a bit of a stir in his own family when he announced he was a registered organ donor. His parents and three brothers have not followed suit but they are at least "open" to the idea.
"Muslims have this argument, this belief, that organ donation is a sin even though most scholars say it's okay, and in fact welcome, because of the belief that to save one life is to save all humanity.
"Transplantation obviously did not exist when the Koran was written. There is a line that says you shouldn't deface the human body. It is a reference to ancient Arab practices of defacing bodies after death. I think people do use that as an excuse not to be organ donors," said Sharif, who conducted the survey with four colleagues from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England.
Muslim apprehension around organ donation appears to be due to conflicting messages from Islamic leaders. "One of the problems with Islam is that there is no central authority, no one body that speaks with one voice so people make their minds up based on various interpretations.
"We found in our survey that the older and more religious you are, the less likely you are to agree to be an organ donor. As well, people of Arab ethnicity are more favourable towards organ donation than people who are Indo-Asians."
While theological confusion appears to be the main reason for the Muslim aversion to organ donation, Sharif said lack of awareness is another huge problem and more needs to be done to engage with the Muslim population to encourage donation.
"The next step has to be aggressive education. But as health professionals, to maintain our credibility, we have to accept there is a debate and leave it to individuals' personal judgment."
The online and printed survey, which solicited respondents through word of mouth, social networking, Muslim organizations and mosques, is expected to be published in a medical journal soon. He said the survey detected some disturbing attitudes that would appear to be based on prejudice. For instance, almost a quarter of respondents said they would only want to donate an organ if they knew it was going to another Muslim. About 10 per cent said they would prefer to receive an organ from a fellow Muslim.
"It's a help-your-own kind of attitude, but to direct an organ to a certain individual is not only unethical, but illegal."
Sharif said that for the past several years, transplant experts have taken a tread-softly approach in order to be politically correct about cultural and religious sensitivities. But he believes it is time to change strategies and be more blunt and forceful.
"We need to target opinion leaders, and those with influence. I'm not sure we'll win this argument, but it's time we took a new approach."
Mohammad Shujaat Ali, the imam at the Masjid Alhaq mosque in Vancouver, said he agrees more could be done if there is any confusion among Muslims regarding donating blood, tissues and organs.
He said he would be willing to be an organ donor himself because of the principle that saving a life is akin to saving humanity.
Those contemplating donation can do so if they satisfy certain conditions: the prospective donor must be convinced by a doctor that the donation will be a life-saving benefit to the recipient, a donor must be assured that his or her health will not suffer as a result of being a donor and no money will ever be exchanged.
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Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help 75 to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
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