What is a transplant? It’s a surgical operation to introduce organ or tissue from one person (the donor) to another (the recipient). It may also refer to the transfer of tissues from one part of a person’s body to another part of the same person’s body.
Way back in 1908 Alexis Carrel came up with a way of transplanting organs but most of the organs he transplanted from one animal to another failed, as organs were eventually rejected. From the 1950s onwards organ transplants gradually became more successful with the development of drugs (e.g. cortisone) to help organs be accepted in the recipient’s body. The first successful heart transplant happened in 1967. For 18 days the patient Louis lived with the heart of a 25 year old woman beating inside him. Nowadays this would be seen as a failure, but back then this was a huge breakthrough. By 1984 heart transplants had become common place around the world and even children were having heart transplants.
In the second half of the 1900s development has continued with the options for transplant surgery growing. Artificial hearts have been with us since the 1950s. Since the late 1970s it has been possible to offer some deaf people the chance to hear with the aid of cochlear implants. In 1981 the first successful heart-lung transplant was performed in Stanford.
Despite this, replacement surgery remains a highly technical and very specialised profession. Its success also depends on the availability of suitable organ donations, and in many places in the world there are not enough to meet the demand. The NHS website explains which organs people can donate as well as what the main faiths teach about organ donation.
This can raise serious ethical questions and, some fear, lead to the body being treated as a commodity.
There is much debate within Islam on whether organ donation is halal or haram.
This has lead to a shortage of organs for Muslims with them having to wait on average an extra year for an organ compared to non-Muslims. The reason for this is that of the three million Muslims in Britain most have a South Asian ethnic background: so if less Muslims of this ethnic background donate organs there’ll be less organs which match people of that ethnic background who need them. Hospitals have had to urge Muslims to donate because the shortage of organs is so severe.