My Culture and Health class is reading a book called Our Bodies Belong to God by Sherine Hamdy, which gives a very detailed analysis about controversy over organ donation in Egypt. One of the topics dealt with in the book is the concept of medical reductionism, where a health issue is reduced to its most basic physical impact on an individual. While this point of view might be tempting for medical professionals who just want to treat an illness and move on, it ignores the vast and complex set of factors that influence health outcomes. I think especially when looking at global health issues, it’s not enough to only consider treatment at the level of the individual. We need to look at how larger social issues, like inequality and exploitation, affect people’s health in negative ways, and work to make it easier for people to be healthy in the first place. This means looking at everything from food systems to family dynamics to labor practices. There’s so much knowledge to integrate and explore! ...I get really excited about this stuff for some reason.
Anyway, the problem with medical reductionism on the part of doctors and other organ transplantation supporters in Egypt is primarily that it neglects patients’ concerns about how they got sick in the first place and whether this costly (both economically and socially, as organs are primarily procured either from organ sellers or family members), risky, and possibly sinful (there is much debate among Islamic religious authorities) procedure will even benefit them that much in the long run. There is an alarmingly high rate of liver and kidney disease in Egypt, which people believe is due to unchecked pollution and food contaminated with pesticides. Where some see only a spare part that needs replacing, these patients see a much more complicated issue.
If you’re interested in reading the book I would highly recommend it, it’s written by my professor and she’s incredibly detailed and insightful. (Our Bodies Belong to God: Organ Transplants, Islam, and the Struggle for Human Dignity in Egypt, by Sherine Hamdy)