The rise of new technology and medical advances in the 21st century makes organ donation a more feasible and common way to help those who suffer from debilitating and often fatal diseases and genetic conditions.
However, in some parts of the world, restrictions based on traditional religions and cultures can limit the practice of organ donation, prompting some to ask whether these kinds of restrictions may hold back health care sectors in these economies.
A Sept. 17 story distributed by Agence France Presse talks about how Algerian residents seek kidney transplants, with many of them going to dialysis for years, and how many of them face real hurdles in getting a new kidney.
Numbers from 2015 show that in the entire country of some 40 million people, only two kidney transplants were performed that year. Neighbors Tunisia and Morocco both logged 10 kidney transplants each. In some Western nations, these numbers would be unacceptable. However, according to experts, they reflect a culture where organ donation is somewhat of a taboo, regardless of its altruistic intent.
According to reports, Algerian law restricts organ donation to the parents, children, siblings or spouses of the donor. Algerian law also specifies that getting an organ from a deceased donor requires the permission of the family. Many families decline to allow organ donation, for various reasons.
One factor has to do with interpretive views of traditional Islam, and how it has impacted Muslim nations and communities around the world.
Mahfuz Meherzad, a professor teaching at Chestnut Hill College and Jefferson University in Philadelphia, says that although some Muslim theologians have ruled that organ donation is allowable in modern times, the "classical" and still dominant view maintains that cutting open the corpse after death is prohibited.
“The body is considered sacred -- whether alive or dead,” Meherzad said.
Talking about how Islamic views on organ donation have changed over time, Meherzad also mentioned that there are exceptions to traditional Islamic rules – for instance, he said, it has long been established that it is permissible to perform surgery on a deceased pregnant woman to save her living child.
Meherzad characterized a backlash against the practice of organ donation as part of the “growing pains” of Islamic modernization. “It calls for re-examining,” he said.
This re-examining, which has been done by Muslim scholars, doesn’t always transfer well to the general population in places like the Maghreb.
"Organ donation... is struggling to gain a foothold in Morocco, even though there are no prohibitions: not medical, legal or religious," Said Sabri, a Moroccan organ registrar, told Agence France Presse.
Changes like these can be an uphill battle for traditional communities, but more leeway on life-saving organ donations can have a positive impact – so it’s likely that opinions on this taboo subject will continue to transform themselves over time.