The very first question any of my family members or Muslim friends asks at the mention of organ donation is: “Is it allowed in Islam?”
The confusion is spread far and wide, and the idea of inadvertently transgressing one’s faith is enough to prevent many people from donating parts of their bodies, even if it means saving someone else’s life.
Similarly, some Hindus believe bad karma will be bestowed on them if they receive an organ from someone who may not have led a pure life. After all, the idea of a liver or heart from a drunken criminal is not a pleasing one.
But while assumed religious conviction is one of the main reasons why so few members of Britain’s South Asian community are reluctant to part with their vitals, the vast majority of religious scholars decree that organ donation is not only permissible, but is positively encouraged – as long as the removal of the organ is carried out respectfully and within religious guidelines.
After all, they argue, what could be more pleasing to God than this ultimate act of altruism?
It is this message that Britain’s Department of Health is trying to get across, not just to South Asians, but all members of the ethnic minorities, in the hope that a shift in attitudes will encourage more people to donate.
The irony is that despite so many people from minorities being so unforthcoming when it comes to giving away their organs, many are less philosophical when they actually need one for themselves.
South Asians in particular are more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, and as a result, the risk of their kidneys failing is three times greater than the rest of the population.
At the moment, nearly 200 people from these groups die every year because they cannot find a suitable match.
And while less than two per cent of the ethnic minorities are signed up as registered donors, South Asians account for 23 per cent of those waiting for one.
As part of this new initiative, the Department of Health has joined forces with a number of charities which represent many of Britain’s ethnic groups in the hope that the message will be far more effective if it comes from members of their own community.
Because the hope is that when many of the existing myths surrounding organ donation are dispelled, the number of people losing their lives unnecessarily will be a thing of the past.