Reincarnation Scaring Off Organ Donors

Hey everyone, this post is courtesy of Ron Gold:

Reincarnation in one of those beliefs that seems quaint, but not dangerous. After all, what harm is there in a person thinking they could come back in another life as a butterfly or a mollusk? Well, believing in reincarnation is actually causing people to die, at least in India, where people are afraid to donate organs for religious reasons:

Hindus believe a person’s spirit is eternal, and the body is just a shell. But some say that if your organs are removed, you may be reincarnated with them missing, said Dr. Aarti Vij, part of the organ retrieval department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

“It can be demoralizing,” Vij admitted. “Hinduism is so much about karma and giving without expectations, but some people just hold onto these beliefs.”

Old-fashioned bigotry is also part of the problem:

Sometimes, doctors also turn away potential donors because some families demand organs go to recipients of the same religion.

“We have to tell them no and ask them to do it for the goodness of the cause,” said Sunil Shroff, a transplant surgeon in Chennai.

Even with 1.1 billion people–and an astoundingly high average of 288 traffic fatalities a day–India only found 80 legal organ donors last year. India is an emerging world power, and is quickly catching up to developed countries economically and technologically. But to catch up medically, they will need to modernize some of their oldest beliefs.

  • bigjohn756

    Well, behavior like this could cut down on the population explosion.

  • Richard Wade

    But some say that if your organs are removed, you may be reincarnated with them missing

    There is good evidence for this. So many babies are born without teeth or hair. That has to be because they are reincarnated old men.

    Behold the power of superstition that supports selfishness. As eternal as karma.

  • littlejohn

    Fortunately for wealthy indians with failing kidneys, I understand there is a thriving black market in body parts.

  • Gordon

    One of my coworkers once told me “It is alright for you to donate your organs, you’re an atheist, you think you’ll just be dead”

    I pointed out that she should believe that she’d still be about to see someone benefit from her donated organs.

    It didn’t help…

    Luckily, I’ll be dead, and wont need my organs, so they can save someone’s life.

    It’d really make more sense if you were assumed to be a donor unless you opted out.

  • Shannon

    Different religion, but a friend of mine once told me that even though her parents wanted to donate their organs, if it was up to her, she wouldn’t allow them. She was Jewish and told me that according to Judaism if you were buried without all your pieces then you didn’t have them in the afterlife.

    This was an otherwise very intelligent woman and she wasn’t even religious, but she was sticking to that one point.

    You know, if you *do* believe in an all powerful god, don’t you think he could, I don’t know, restore your organs?

  • Orson

    Kudos on the Canadian newspaper link! Not that it matters, but are you Canadian Ron?

  • Delphine

    Better yet, he would make us all WITHOUT ORGANS so there’s nothing to lose.

    Would it not be great if we’re all just amoeba blobs and if a limb lops off it just regrows?

    The alternative option is to have organs regrow themselves after they fail, or to make unfailing organs. I guess this god isn’t so powerful eh?

  • muggle

    Shoot, I’m irrational on this one too. I’m damned if I’ll be recycled. Only if my daughter or grandson need a part. Yep, I admit that’s selfish. Know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass that it is. This body is mine. It is me. And it’s my choice to divy it up and farm it out or not. Anybody wants to that’s their business but I will not be harvested like a damned crop by some Frankensteinish medical refusal to accept death on any level.

    You want to know how to up the ante. Let the poor sell what can be when they’re alive. Like your spare kidney or bone marrow. Heck, they don’t even pay for blood anymore. But they sure as heck charge you for it if you get it.

    I say if it’s a commodity you have and it’s rare and valuable, allow the poor to sell it. For the highest price they can get.

    That’s no sicker than vultures lurking to recycle them after you die. Why shouldn’t the poor be able to do this? God, it’s sickening how they’re always after us for our parts but they don’t want us to get anything back for it. No wonder there’s a thriving black market.

    And, seriously, no one should have to agree to it. No matter how stupid their reason not to is. If our own bodies aren’t even our own any more, what the hell is? It doesn’t get any more personal than this. Sorry. No one has the right to someone else’s body against their will.

    Before anyone suggests, if it were my daughter or my grandson, I can’t know how I’d feel until faced with it but I’d be being emotional, not logical, and, no, my overwhelming emotions don’t give me the right to take someone else’s body part unless they voluntarily donated it.

  • http://www.awkwardcore.com dan

    taking this idea to its logical extreme is really funny. after presumably countless thousands of years of going through a reincarnation cycle in which you only get to continue with the body parts you had when you die, it seems like everyone would be missing multiple limbs/organs.

  • Aj

    muggle,

    Anybody wants to that’s their business but I will not be harvested like a damned crop by some Frankensteinish medical refusal to accept death on any level.

    You’re right, that is irrational. I hope you don’t get ill but if you do, I hope that you don’t get a transplant over someone who would be willing to donate their organs.

    Heck, they don’t even pay for blood anymore. But they sure as heck charge you for it if you get it.

    Because paid donors have a higher rate of infectious disease. Paying for blood may turn of people who donate for altruistic reasons. Blood is processed, it isn’t free to deliver from donor to recipient, it has to be tested and stored.

    I say if it’s a commodity you have and it’s rare and valuable, allow the poor to sell it. For the highest price they can get.

    I don’t think it would be worth much if people were allowed to sell organs freely. There are many more needy donors than there are rich recipients. The reason why the price is so high is that it is a black market.

    That’s no sicker than vultures lurking to recycle them after you die.

    What’s sick is to describe people who want to save the lives of others as “vultures”.

  • http://theipu.com Ron Gold

    Orson-I’m not Canadian, eh, but that won’t stop me from using Canadian newspapers. The Star is quality.

  • Raghu Mani

    I’m afraid this article has it all wrong. Belief in reincarnation is indeed the cause of a lot of evils in India but it has little to do with the problem of cadaver donors.

    Here’s a little about my background. I am from India and from a Hindu background. In addition, my father is a kidney specialist who has been trying extremely hard (with limited success) to get a cadaver donation program going in India for something like 35 years.

    There’s really nothing that I’m aware of in the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation that says that any organs taken from your body will be missing in your next life. Of course people use stuff like this as excuses because they just do not want to donate.

    Overall, I’d say there are three reasons why cadaver organ donations don’t happen.

    The first reason is that people don’t want to donate and use religion as an excuse. In truth, the actual reason is more cultural than anything else. Indians, in general, are extremely family obsessed and lack, to a certain degree, the kind of community spirit that you see in the west. You are so shocked by the death of your loved ones that you cannot imagine surrendering their body immediately for organs to be harvested. Saving the life of someone you don’t know at all, is not something that enters your head. At that time appeals by doctors at the hospital sound more intrusive than anything else. Of course, you might think about donation after a few days but by that time it is too late – the organs are useless.

    The second major problem, is archaic and outdated laws. For the longest time, it was illegal to remove organs from the body until 24 hours after death. Things move ridiculously slowly in India (particularly if there are no votes that will directly result) and it took forever to actually get laws passed that legalized this. Then there was the issue of recognizing brain-death which didn’t happen until the mid-1990s. Even now, some states have restrictions that say that a police officer must be present or you need to get permission from a judge which cannot be easily done when you have maybe an hour (often less) to harvest the organs.

    The final issue is the availability of organs, for money, from poor people. India is full of desperately poor people who are quite willing to sell an organ for money and there are enough people rich enough to buy these organs, enough unscrupulous doctors to carry out such transplants and enough corrupt government officials who can be bribed to look away when such an act (which is, technically, illegal) happens. If rich, influential people found that the only way to get organs was through cadaver donors then they would bring their influence to bear on the issue but given the availability of this shortcut, they have no motive to.

    Things are changing for the better though. Indians are developing more of a community spirit and are getting better educated about matters. The government has cracked down in a big way on some of the more egregious offenders in the unrelated organ trade and the laws, are, for the most part, finally on the side of cadaver organ donation. So there’s hope for the future.

    I’ll leave you with links to a series of articles my dad wrote on the subject for one of Chennai’s major newspapers. The first is on the unrelated organ trade and the other two are on various aspects of cadaver donation. You can see what are the real issues affecting cadaver donation in India.

    I know, with this crowd, religion is an easy bogeyman but in this case, it does not bear any significant part of the blame.

    Raghu Mani

  • Mark

    I am an organ donor with the stipulation that my organs can only go to confirmed Atheists.

    I do not want to prolong the life or further child bearing potential of some idiotic religious person.

    If we want reason to someday triumph over superstition, we all have an obligation to act accordingly.

  • ChameleonDave

    Muggle, you’re scum. See post by Aj.

  • http://3harpiesltd.org/ocb Judith Bandsma

    Shannon, my niece did her Girl Scout gold award project on organ donation. One of the parts of it was interviewing different religious leaders about their views on donation. The rabbi she interviewed told her that saving lives was one of the most important things a Jew could do…their own, or others’. While the Hassidim believe that a body should be buried with all its parts, Conservative and Reformed teachings encourage organ donation.

  • Arachobia

    Good point about how even a seemingly innocent belief can be dangerous.

    To be honest, I was kind of tolerant of reincarnation, it does encourage a bit of a kinship with other living things, as opposed to the monotheistic ‘god gave man the world and everything in it’ stupidity (of course it slightly ruins it by ranking what lives are ‘higher’ than others), and there is a sort of reincarnation, or more accurately recycling, in nature in that what dies is broken down by other life form who are in turn ingested by more.

    Still, its a good illustration of why belief is dangerous. Its founding is irrational, and it leads to irrational ideas. I’m reminded of a very old episode of the Simpsons where Bart asks at Sunday school “If your leg is amputated is it waiting for you in heaven?”

  • Sabyasachi

    I am from India. I am a Hindu atheist. Unfortunately, the article lays the blame of the small number of donor harvests on some Hindus believing that they may be reincarnated with organs missing. I do not think that this is belief that is shared by most Hindus. The number of cadaverous transplants is low mainly due to lack of infrastructure and ignorance about donation. What is required is public awareness on a large scale about organ donation.

  • Arctic Ape

    Let’s make it a bilateral deal: You die and donate your liver to me, who have split my own liver in a car accident. I donate my wrecked liver to your dead body and you can reincarnate with it. That way, we can both have a new life without being de-livered.

    (Hi, I’m here for your pun-ishment. This is a great blog.)

  • Claudia

    I happily come from the country with the best organ transplant system in the world, and also one of the lowest denial rates (that is, family members refusing to allow transplant from deceased relatives).
    Muggle, the only reason I’m not entirely disgusted with you is because you recognize at the beginning of your comment that your feeling is irrational. I wonder how dearly you would hope that other people aren’t as selfish as you if a grandchild of yours got sick and needed a transplant.
    You would deny a new lease on life to a person, someone’s child, someone’s sister or brother, aunt or uncle, father or mother or grandmother or grandfather, just because of a recognized as irrational fear that you wouldn’t even be around to suffer? Please rethink your stance, it is the epitome of selfishness.
    Mark, your bigotry is even worse than Muggle’s fear. All the work we have to do, all the fights atheists are constantly waging to combat religious discrimination against us, and you would deny life to someone based on their belief in a god? Cruelty Jerry Falwell would be proud of.

  • muggle

    Claudia, thank you for disagreeing respectfully. It’s appreciated.

    AJ and ChamelonDave, I don’t think you can point fingers at intolerant Christians any more. You sounded very much like them and did very little to change my mind about my body not being used as a spare parts shop.

    And I stick by my term vultures. At least ’til they stop the horrendous practice of pressuring grieving loved ones of the newly deceased not in any shape to make an informed decision to allow harvesting of organs. It’d be much more discreet to put a question on intake forms, just yes or no would you be willing to donate your organs and maybe add an option to talk to a staff members if you have questions.

    Just a suggestion. But one hell of a lot less vulture-like. As long as staff member only discussed with those who said yes, I’d like to know more.

    I maintain my stance. There’s nothing more personal, more you, than your body and you should maintain control of it. No matter how stupid your reason.

    But maybe if the medical profession went after organs in a classier manner rather than in such a barbaric fashion, they’d stop illiciting such viseral emotional shutdowns towards the idea. They come off very sick and twisted with their never-ending give us parts of your body mongering. It’s fucked-up, plain and simple.

    There used to be an expression commonly used whenever someone reached the point of using you too much, “What do you want? My blood?” They not only want your blood, they want your parts.

    And I’m sorry that face transplant was going too far. That hand transplant was weird but the face was just plain Frankenstein time. We don’t check this bullshit at some point, the whole body will be exchanged parts at some point. Mary Shelly has no idea how accurate her story was.

    I suppose I’m being too emotional about that.

    Here’s a thought: fight the religionists that are prohibiting stell cell research. It’s a less intrusive way of providing life.

    And, you know, at some freaking point, accept death. We all die. And I think we do take it too far sometimes in our fight to prolong it. How the hell bad does overpopulation have to be before we both control births and accept a normal life span instead of thinking we’ve got to keep doing whatever it takes to live longer and longer even though there’s more and more people on the planet?

  • Shannon

    Judith, that is very odd! My friend was definitely not Hassidic. She told me that she wasn’t observant but that she was very insistent on that one point. And to be clear, she stated that if her parents were dead and she was the one to make the decision, she would go against their stated preference and not allow the donations. Maybe she’s changed her mind since then, this was back in college.

    I disagree with Muggle’s stance on organ donation except on one point. It’s his/her body. I don’t believe in an afterlife so when I’m dead, I’m dead and I don’t see any point in letting the bits rot away instead of using them. But if someone does feel strongly about that – whether they believe in an afterlife or not – then that’s their right. I don’t think anyone should be coerced into organ donation.

  • http://3harpiesltd.org/ocb Judith Bandsma

    Shannon, I found this:

    What does Judaism have to say about organ donation?
    Rabbi Dr. Goldie Milgram, http://www.ReclaimingJudaism.org

    Living a mitzvah-centered life is the spiritual essence of being a Jew. Organ transplantation and donation were once strongly limited by Jewish law because they were experimental and endangered life, today these are essential, successful medical life-saving methods. Accordingly, organ donation has become a mitzvah chiyuvit, an obligatory mitzvah, fulfilling Judaism’s great mitzvah of pikuakh nefesh, that of saving a life.

    So long as it will not significantly risk your own life, surgical removal and donation of organs such as a lung or a kidney by a living donor is a mitzvah kiyumit, a praise-worthy but not obligatory mitzvah, since with all surgery there is some danger and distress to the donor.

    (emphasis mine)

  • Shannon

    Judith, thanks again.

    “Organ transplantation and donation were once strongly limited by Jewish law because they were experimental and endangered life, . . . ”

    Hmmm. We’re talking 20 years ago we had that conversation. Not *that* long ago. Interesting.

  • Aj

    muggle,

    1) Not only is pressurizing for organ donation against many code of conducts in many countries, quite a few countries have an opt out organ donation policy. It’s wrong to blame a whole profession for something they have no part in.

    2) Many, perhaps most, organ donations come from accidents where patients might not be admitted by their next of kin. People don’t like considering the worst case scenario when they enter hospital with a loved one with a serious injury. And you call people asking for organs after someone has died sick? Asking people to consider their loved ones death when they first come into hosptial after a shocking accident is inhuman.

    3) If you think there’s nothing more “you” than your dead body than there’s something seriously wrong. All the atoms in your body can change and you can still be you. You can lay all the ingredients of a human out on a table but it doesn’t mean shit. A living person with a mind is worth a damn. A dead body is worthless in comparison.

    4) You’ve persauded me ChameleonDave was right. You are scum. Anyone who can disparage someone who hasn’t got a face or a hand getting one is not right in the head. Anyone who says that a person should just die instead of getting a heart transplant is amoral scum.

  • muggle

    AJ, that frankly is the pot calling the kettle black. And, again, don’t complain when fundies act the way you do, next time. OK?

    Others have politely disagreed with me and earned by respect by doing so. You don’t have enough class. And, name-calling isn’t going to convince anyone.

    For the record, I’m talking about all the constant demands we’re bombarded with. And having read that it’s policy in many hospitals to do just that when a patient dies and, personally, I think that’s pretty cold. So sorry your loved one is dead; may I harvest them for their organs now so someone else’s may live? If that was my daughter or grandson, they’d have to get a restraining jacket to protect the doctor having the fucking nerve to ask such a cold-hearted question at such an inappropriate time. I was suggesting a more humane alternative but, believe it or not, I do see your point so I’d say they just have to content themself with organ donor cards signed ahead of time.

    I hope to hell it’s never the opt-out b.s. in this country. Too easy to lose the paperwork and harvest people who don’t want to be. It’s a personal choice. If you want to sign up, that’s your choice. This is mine and I’ve made damned sure my next of kin knows it.

    As for the hand and the face, you know shit happens. Sucks but that’s life. There is no god.

    And no one’s walking around with my face after I’m dead. Maybe that’s part of my problem with it. They know no limit. Maybe they should. Just out of decency and respect to the dead.

    You say it’s heartless to deprive that person of that face. Well, I say it’s pretty cold not to think how the deceased’s loved ones would feel coming face to face with the donee. Where we really disagree is that I think this is one place wherein science goes too far.

    Death is a fact of life. Deal with it.

  • Aj

    muggle,

    AJ, that frankly is the pot calling the kettle black. And, again, don’t complain when fundies act the way you do, next time. OK?

    I haven’t repeatedly defamed medical professionals, told the sick they should remain so, the dying tough shit. Last time I checked. It’s strange you keep bringing up the fundamentalists, because they also come here and post paranoid rants about their irrational beliefs like you.

    For the record, I’m talking about all the constant demands we’re bombarded with. And having read that it’s policy in many hospitals to do just that when a patient dies and, personally, I think that’s pretty cold. So sorry your loved one is dead; may I harvest them for their organs now so someone else’s may live?

    Demands? Actual hospital policy? Beginning with “may”? Oh wait, that’s right, you’re lying about the medical profession again. I can assure you, counter to your paranoid delusions, personnel in charge of obtaining transplant consent do not say that as a rule, and they don’t make constant anything, let alone demands. That’s a hateful, foolish, vile lie.

    I hope to hell it’s never the opt-out b.s. in this country. Too easy to lose the paperwork and harvest people who don’t want to be. It’s a personal choice. If you want to sign up, that’s your choice. This is mine and I’ve made damned sure my next of kin knows it.

    Apparantly too easy to lose paperwork, but too hard to forge paperwork, or disregard it.

    Just out of decency and respect to the dead.

    The dead aren’t their dead bodies. You can respect the dead, you don’t need to respect the meat bag. Respect the living, treat them with decency.

    Well, I say it’s pretty cold not to think how the deceased’s loved ones would feel coming face to face with the donee.

    Is ignorance bliss? You think this is like the movie Face/Off? You think that any loved ones would ever come face to face with a recipient and know? More bullshit excuses.

  • Claudia

    Muggle, the reason people are asked about organ donation inmediately after the death of a loved one is not, as you may believe, because doctors are so uncaring that they don’t even think about the pain of survivors in that moment. Organ donation is tricky business. Organs only stay viable for donations for a very short period, which means that they MUST be taken out of the deceased ASAP if they are to help someone needing an organ. It would be great if we could wait for loved ones to assimilate the death before approaching them, but unfortunately that is not an option.

    I wish we did have an “opt-out” option for donation. I’m sorry but the literally life or death need of the gravely ill should outweigh the irrational antsy feeling of the healthy, especially considering they won’t be around to care at the time. That way we could do away with this thing of approaching family. As it stands today, your next-of-kin has the final say on what happens to your organs, not you. Because it is true that your body is your own, I guess I can’t really expect people to have no choice in the matter, but I think people should be forced to proactively give notice that they would rather their organs rot than potentially save the life of 5 sick people.

    Would their be mistakes? Yes, of course there would be. But for me it’s a hell of a bigger travesty and outrage for a 40 year old man with heart disease, a 30 year old mother and a 50 year old storekeeper with kidney failure, a 43 year old man with lung disease and a 16 year old girl with liver cancer to all die because someone felt “icky” about their organs being donated.

  • tamarind

    Very well said, Claudia.

  • Pingback: Don’t Donate Your Organs! You Need Them When You’re Reincarnated! « atheism is the default position

  • Keith W

    In the late 1980s, I worked for a tissue transplant service in public affairs; since then, my Father has had two cornea transplants, and a cousin, a middle aged woman with two adult children, has beaten liver disease with a transplant.

    Personally, I believe that it’s ignorant, and totally ego-centric, to object to organ and tissue donation for transplants. Without question, I agree with bio-ethicists who say that we need to have ‘opt-out’ policies, and that harvesting our bodies for transplant and research material is a moral obligation.

    Personally, I plan to donate my entire body to a medical school; when studies are complete, the remains will be cremated, with the ashes commingled with those of other donors — i.e., men and women of different ethnic origins, and of different religious and socio-economic backgrounds.

    Once, an employee at a University anatomy department told me that she felt whole body donation was the ultimate, secularist mode of disposition, as everyone from Presbyterian ministers to Pagan Priestesses (in life, registered nurses) had been dissected side-by-side in gross anatomy lab. In other words, service to other people was more important than petty theological squabbles.

    Today, their ashes lie in the University cemetery plot, as one – thus, Death is about equality, and personal extinction.

    Although it may frighten some people, donation is an admission of our mortality, and the relinquishment of our ego-centered consciousnesses and superstitions. If a body part can extend, or improve, the life of a living person, it is immoral not to donate.