Posted by Sanjanaa Senthilkumar
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 for most organ donations in India. Not only are the statistics lopsided on the donor’s 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 is social bias and sense of urgency towards aiding a man over a woman under the same conditions.
Organs are vital to a healthy life; therefore, social discourse about their donation naturally arises. Studies claim that, “…data from four major hospitals from 2008 to 2017 revealed that women constituted 74 percent of kidney donors”. 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 are poor. 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 women of the household takes 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 for 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”. This clearly is an act that is done for personal pleasure without thinking about the other party. In this situation, it is evident 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 liver”. Women in India, socially and culturally, have been viewed as less valuable than men. Women have been viewed through a utilitarian viewpoint; they are assessed from their ability to reproduce. Creating lineage is seen as the primary duty of the wife and it is directly correlated to the pride and reputation of the family. Their gender is associated with their ability to produce, whether it be children 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 that, women are “care-givers” and “life-givers”. These labels stand as false justification for using women, and further to create the illusion of responsibility. Ideas like these directly translate into the medical field as seen in the organ donation industry.
The legitimization provided by culture propagate a demeaning mindset, likening women with property. This fragmented ideology creates the disturbingly easy expectation of women to be organ donors and to not be worthy of receiving them. 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 alive, which makes it 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 is seen merely as an altruistic effort for the benefit of a close male relative. To a group of people that are already being viewed as the lower ranking gender, being coerced into donating organs only aggravates the social disparity between men and women.
In order to create change, there must be a disturbance to 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 women 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 such unequal and inhumane acts will be curbed.
Sanjanaa is a science enthusiast that aspires to become a doctor in the near future! She is also very passionate about overlooked areas of inequality in the society. She firmly believes that her writing is a small step towards creating an inclusive and non-prejudiced society. She finds peace in the most foodie hobby ever: baking! You can find her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: UW Medicine