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Egypt Seeks to Ban Christian-Muslim Organ Transplants

August 25th 2008

Islamic Topics - Muslim doctor
Muslim medic

The Egyptian Medical Association, through its spokesman on August 18, denied that a bill in the Egyptian parliament would discriminate between Christians and Muslims by prohibiting organ transplants between members of the two faiths. The Association supports the controversial measure. “This is all to protect poor Muslims from rich Christians who buy their organs and vice versa,” explained Hamdi Al Sayed – the director of the Medical Association. Under the bill, physicians who violate the proposed law would face retribution.

Al Sayed denied any sectarianism in the proposed law saying that “if some Copts are angered by the law then why is it that Muslims are not.” Even so, Al Sayed said that under the draft law, it’s not possible for a Coptic Christian to donate organs to a Muslim and vice versa simply because donations have been restricted to family members up to the fourth degree. Al Sayed continued “…it is degrading for both religions if lets say, a poor Christian has to sell his kidney to a rich Muslim, or a poor Muslim has to sell his kidney to a rich Christian. It is not right for either religion and that is why we made this law so we can stop organ trafficking.” Finally, Al Sayed continued, “It is not about trying to promote differences between religions but it’s just to minimize the trade of organs as much as we can.”

Speaking for Coptic Christians, Bishop Marcos said “We all have the same Egyptian blood, but if the reason for the measure is to end organ trafficking, we reject it because it may also occur between believers of the same religion.” For Bishop Marcos, the Association’s decision is “very grave” since it can lead to prohibiting blood donation between Christians and Muslims or prevent physicians from examining patients of religions other than their own. “We are afraid that in the future there will be hospitals for Christians and hospitals for Muslims,” said the bishop. Egyptian Christians currently make up approximately 10% of the nation as a whole, which has a population of more than 76 million.

Some Muslims have spoken against the move by the Medical Association. According to Abel Moti Bayumi, of the prestigious Al Azhar Center for Islamic Studies, the prohibition “could lead to discrimination between a Muslim and a Christian living in the same country.” Also, Sheikh Gamal Kotb - former Chairman of the Fatwa Committee – was quoted as saying that there is nothing in Islam that prevents Muslims from receiving or donating an organ transplant from either Muslim or non- Muslim.

For its part, the Egyptian Human Rights Union has brought suit before a court in Cairo against the physicians. Naguib Gibrael of the Human Rights Union believes that the measure “is discriminatory, since it violates human rights, the Constitution, and national unity.” Gibrael denounced the Muslim Brotherhood and its “strong Islamist control over the Medical Association.” Said Gibrael,”If the Medical Association does not annul the measure, there will be more conflict between Muslims and Christians.” The Muslim Brotherhood is the main opposition party in Egypt, which has been linked to Islamist movements worldwide.

During the 1990s, Egypt witnessed a wave of anti-Christian and anti-Western violence led by Islamist groups such as Gamaa Al Islamiya and Islamic Jihad which reaped a toll of some 1,300 people – many of them Coptic Christians – mostly in the southern part of the country. There have been more recent anti-Christian attacks: in June 2008, a monastery in Abu Fana was attacked and burned by Muslims, causing serious injuries to seven monks.

There has been a notable rift between prominent Muslim clerics in Egypt over organ donation. In 2007, the Grand Sheik of Al Azhar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the leader of the most important center of learning in Sunni Islam, announced his willingness to donate his organs upon his death. This was contrary to the stated position of the Muslim cleric Sheik Mohammed Metwali al-Sharawi. Metawali Al-Sharawi has a popular television program on which he declared that since human organs are a gift from God, they should be neither donated nor replaced by Muslim believers.

There is an acute shortage of human organs donated in Egypt, prompting a lively black market. Concern has been expressed by the Egyptian Medical Association and others about “transplant tourists” – foreigners coming to Egyptian seeking transplants who may encourage the trafficking of human organs. In the 1990s, the association moved to limit or eliminate kidney transplant surgery for foreigners coming to Egypt. For Al Sayed of the Egyptian Medical Association, the intention of the proposed law is the elimination of organ trafficking. “If organ donations are from the third or fourth degree of the family then there is less of a chance of a trade happening as it’s not likely that family members will sell organs to each other,” said Al Sayed.

“Egypt is different from other places,” said Al Sayed. “No one really comes up and says they want to donate their organs to other people who are not in their family. This happens in the West but in Egypt it is mostly the poor people who are desperate and end up selling their organs for money.”

Martin Barillas is a former diplomat who edits www.speroforum.com.

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