On Sunday 9th December, Sikh educational project Basics of Sikhi will be joined by several medical professionals to discuss the issue of organ donation. The panel will include Rohit Sagoo, Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University and founder of British Sikh Nurses, who writes here about his experiences of organ donation and the Sikh community:
Anaya Kaur Kandola was born with little chance of survival and has fought battle after battle to be here. She has Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease (ARPKD) is a condition in which growing cysts leave little room for other organs and create serious difficulties such as underdeveloped lungs, vulnerability to infections and heart conditions. This left the doctors with no choice but to remove Anaya’s kidneys soon after birth. Dialysis helps to cleans Anaya’s blood by being on a machine 10-12 hours every day and right now it is the only thing keeping her alive.
Anaya is coming up to 2 years of age. The difficulties of her condition and being attached to a machine for almost half the day has severely impacted her growth and development. This is all Anaya has known in her short life.
As Sikhs we often think about helping others, growing Sikhi, and instilling the values our Guru Jis left behind in ourselves and our children going forward. Here, our child has opened our eyes to the greatest Seva: giving life to others when we pass by donating our organs to those in need.
It is widely reported that in the UK there is a shortfall of organ donors from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities. According to statistics from NHS Blood and Transport, around one third of patients awaiting an organ are from BAME communities. However, a significantly smaller proportion of the BAME community registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register. 3.3% of registrants were Asian, 2% were mixed race, and just 1% were black. These statistics show the pressing need for the Asian community to respond to the needs of organ patients.
In 2017/18, just over 1,500 donated organs after their death. Of these, 114 were from ethnic minority groups and just 37 (or 2.4%) were of Asian heritage. Such a disparity between those who need organs and those who donate them is clear to see: nearly 20% of those requiring an organ transplant are from the Asian community, but only 1% of organ donors each year are South Asian.
Organ donation is generally viewed positively in the Sikh Community. General attitudes to organ donation from South Asians, express religious, sociocultural, and environmental pressures. Though the sociocultural and environmental pressures may exist for the Sikh community, there is no evidence to suggest that the Sikh community is deterred from donating organs on religious grounds.
The Sikh faith is underpinned by the ethos of executing noble deeds for all of humankind. Therefore, it can be suggested that organ donation would be considered as one of those noble acts according to the Sikh faith. Sri Guru Granth Sahib – the Sikh holy scripture – states:
“The true servants of God are those who serve Him through helping others” Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
With this in mind, it is important to consider organ donation as a service to those in need. Many of the individuals within the Sikh community that require organ transplantation have raised awareness through campaigning through the Gurdwaras and other forms of media. The sharing of learned experiences has expanded the discussion of organ donation within the Sikh community. But what more can be done?
Dialogue with Sikhs of all ages has shown that what happens to our bodies after life can be a positive discussion. Many acknowledge the need for education and awareness, and welcome the opportunity to share their own thoughts on how they wish to serve others. The concept of saving a life as the highest form of seva has been echoed many times over.
In addition, older members of the community have expressed concern that health issues would eliminate them from being able to donate, but they have been assured that donations have been taken from those in their 60s, 70s, and beyond, and that the medical team will be able to assess whether any of the transplantable organs would benefit someone in need.
It is encouraging to all of us to note that both those previously unaware of the Organ Donor Register, and those that are already on it, have expressed their gratitude to volunteers for bringing this message to the Sikh community. Everybody involved hopes that the issue of a lack of organ donors can be addressed, and ultimately provides hope to those waiting for organs to survive.
As many have said in their parting comments, none of us know when we or our loved ones maybe the ones on a waiting list, and if we are prepared to receive an organ, we should equally be prepared to donate them when our time comes.
Sunday’s discussion will be held from 7.30pm (after katha) upstairs at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Park Avenue, Southall.