Women: India’s Organ Donation Machines

The organ donation industry has been a controversial issue and has a bias towards certain groups of people, leading to unethical practices of human care. The data obtained from medical databases demonstrate that women constitute most organ donations in India. Not only are the statistics lopsided on the donor end, but the receiving end also proves unfavorable to women. A large portion of this inequality can be explained by the cultural climate in India. Several ideologies of gender roles have roots that can be traced back to centuries ago. In addition, economical and spiritual factors propagate this disproportion. It is evident that there are social bias and a sense of urgency towards aiding a man over a woman under the same conditions.

Organs are vital to a healthy life; therefore, social discourse naturally arises within the topic of organ donation. Chattopadhyay claims that “data from four major hospitals from 2008 to 2017 revealed that women constituted 74 percent of kidney donors” (“Did it Have to Be from Me?”). The percentages may be startling but given more context, the drastic differences make more sense. As a developing country, India houses families that are economically challenged. In 2016 The World Bank stated that 1 in 5 Indians is poor (World Bank). With it already being difficult to pay for necessities (food, electricity bills, etc.…), it is impractical to have the only source of income – usually the man of the household- to have a surgical procedure. Therefore, if a close relative needs an organ the females of the household take the responsibility. The act of this donation is not dehumanizing in this case because the donor and the receiver understand that this is what is best for everyone. It is justified that the act of donation is what is correct, given that the family cannot afford to lose the only salary that the family runs on. However, this is not the case in most situations. For example, Dr. Anil Kumar testifies that “there were cases where a man got married just so he could get an organ donor” (Battacharya).  This clearly is an act that is done for personal pleasure without thinking about the other party. In this situation, it is evident that It should be stressed that organ donation is just another industry that reflects upon the foundational inequality between the genders.

On the receiving end, the discrepancy continues, only this time it is flipped; women “made up 19 percent of recipients of kidney transplants and 24 percent for the liver” (“Did it Have to Be from Me?”). Women in India, socially and culturally, have been viewed as less valuable than men. The causation for this biased attitude toward women can be traced back to the late Vedic period as mentioned in the article “Relationship Between Culture and Gender Inequality in India”. The article links the Vedic age as a time where “upper-caste women were preoccupied with rituals” and that “religious scripture mentions about the declining status of women” (Sharma). The women’s role became limited to a wife and a mother. One contemporary custom that still exists today is the practice of giving the husband’s family dowry. The dowry symbolizes the lesser nature of the bride and reinforces that to be equal with the groom there must be monetary compensation. Women have been viewed through a utilitarian viewpoint: they are assessed from their ability to reproduce. Creating lineage is the primary duty of the wife and it is directly correlated to the pride and reputation of the family. The gender is associated with their ability to produce, whether it be babies or organs. But you would be quick to ask – “isn’t this wrong?” To the many that are part of the discriminatory system, the answer is this: women are “care-givers” and “life-givers” (Battacharya). These labels stand as a false justification for using women, and further create the illusion of responsibility. Ideas like these directly translate into the medical field as seen in the organ donation industry.

The legitimizations provided by culture propagate a demeaning mindset, likening females with the property. This fragmented ideology creates the disturbingly easy expectation of women to be organ donors and to not be worthy of organ rececival. They are viewed as organ machines rather than being valued as a human. Gender should not play a role in determining the quality of health care provided. The issue becomes even more problematic given that most donors are living. Followers of Hinduism, the most predominant religion in India (80.5% of the population), believe that “the body should be “whole” at the time of cremation” and that “transplanting an organ from a corpse into another body is… ‘impure’” (Dhillon). Given that most of the donors are living it is evident that there is a significant emotional and psychological toll on the organ donors. After the procedure, the patients return home with no expectation of empathy- it was merely an altruistic effort for the benefit of a close male relative. To a group of people that are already being viewed as the lower gender, being coerced into donating only aggravates the social disparity between men and women. If a perfectly healthy woman dies during the surgical procedure then she has been murdered; every one that coerced her into donating is then a murderer and certainly a criminal.

In order to create change, there must be a disturbance of the normal ideology. This transformation should focus on all areas of gender inequality, not just organ donation. The small, yet just, actions in other fields will eventually feed into the medical industry. Rather than seeing the female as an organ machine the society needs to view her as equally human. In this regard, if the male population spoke up about this issue instead of restraining themselves to their cultural obligations, then the inhumane acts will diminish.

If you like this article, check out:https://www.harnessmagazine.com/will-the-fearless-women-please-stand-up/


by Sanju_Senthilkumar

My name is Sanjanaa (Sanju) Senthilkumar and I am a student at Baylor University. I am very passionate in pursuing a a career in medical ethics and love writing about healthcare advocacy. Let me know if you have any ideas/thoughts!

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