Fighting forced organ harvesting
Adnan Sharif explains why he got involved in putting an end to the practice of involuntary organ donation
- By: Aadil Sheikh
Adnan Sharif graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2002 and is a consultant nephrologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. He is the secretary of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH), an organisation that campaigns against illegal and unethical transplants around the world. DAFOH has been recognised with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2016.
Why did you want to become a nephrologist?
When I finished medical school, I knew that I didn’t want to be a surgeon or a general practitioner but I wasn’t sure which specialty to choose. I enjoyed my renal job during training, which led me to where I am today. It has a mix of acute versus chronic medicine, general versus specialist, and it allows for subspecialisation. After my membership of the Royal College of Physicians exam I went straight into a clinical research job, where I worked in the area of kidney transplantation. This has stuck with me as my area of interest as an organ transplant really can change a patient’s day to day life. It’s very inspiring and humbling.
How did you first get involved in working with DAFOH?
I was asked by a colleague, who was on the advisory board for DAFOH, to sign a petition for the UN Human Rights Office to investigate the claims that organs were being taken without the donor’s consent. I became more involved and things evolved from there. This was around six years ago.
How do you manage your time between your NHS commitments and DAFOH?
It’s quite difficult because I have a young family. The day job is the clinical work that I am paid to do. I also do a lot of clinical research when I can find the time. The work with DAFOH is done during my spare time and is mainly correspondence. But I am usually strict: as far as I am concerned, your work time is your work time, and family time is family time.
Can you explain the work DAFOH does?
DAFOH was formed 10 years ago as a result of the 2007 Kilgour-Matas report, conducted by Canadian MP David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas. They were investigating allegations of forced organ procurement from executed prisoners in China. DAFOH’s members are mainly doctors who volunteer, campaign, and raise public awareness to force an end to the practice.
What motivated you to work for DAFOH?
Transplantation is one of the medical miracles of the past 50 years. I am involved with kidney transplants in my job as a nephrologist, and I have worked on projects raising awareness on organ donation among Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. We need to encourage people to donate organs, so if something sullies the reputation of organ donation, then it can have a knock-on effect on people’s willingness to donate their organs. When I read about forced organ harvesting, I felt that I had a responsibility as a transplant professional to try to stop it.
Why do you think people from BAME communities in the UK donate fewer organs?
I do a lot of work trying to increase organ donations in the BAME community in Birmingham, particularly among the Muslim community. You hear the same excuses why there is a low uptake: “It’s cultural, it’s religious, it’s language barriers.” I think this is nonsense. Yes, these things may have an influence, but apathy also plays a part. It’s not just a problem within BAME communities: only a third of the UK population is on the organ donor register. Everyone would be happy to take a transplant; so if you are happy to receive one, you should be happy to give.
Is there a way to tackle this apathy?
Yes. I think that people who are on the organ donor register should be prioritised for transplants. If there are two people who have waited the same amount of time for a transplant but one is on the organ donor register and the other one is not, give it to the one who is on the register. This system is already used in Israel.Aadil Sheikh, final year medical student
University of Birmingham, UK
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
- Congressional Executive Commission on China. Annual report 2006. https://bulk.resource.org/gpo.gov/hearings/109h/29862.pdf.
- Published: 24 October 2016
- DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.i4174