So now I understand…

29 02 2008

Midlands Today this lunchtime reported with great enthusiasm the case of a teenage boy from Ghana who had been brought to Britain along with his father to have a life saving operation.

The boy, who needed a new kidney has had it donated by his father following a conference in his native Ghana. At this conference Felix Yeboah stood up in front of hundreds and made an impassioned plea for help. The British doctors who were at the meeting took pity on Felix following his ‘brave and inspiring’ speech at this conference and hastily arranged for him to be brought to Birmingham’s very own University Hospital to have this operation.

Which is great for everyone connected to Felix, and I’m delighted for everyone connected with him and his family.

Yet I can’t help feeling a bit flat by it all. My mind quickly wanders back to Ama Sumani, of whom I blogged earlier on this year. Sumani, who was already in Britain, was deported back to Ghana when her visa expired. She had treatable cancer, and was recieving dialysis in Cardiff before officials stepped in. Now back in Ghana she has, or will shortly become, just another statistic. Just another death.

Britain’s Border and Immigration Agency deported her because there was the facilities to treat her in Ghana. This article says more about the whole case, trying to work out who should feel the guilt.

I’m left wondering that if there is the facilities to treat a woman of cancer in Ghana, surely there must be the facilities to carry out a kidney transplant too? Or is this too much of an assumption- I’m willing to be corrected.

For me there is one simple difference. Felix is a fresh faced young boy, full of enthusiasm (he talks of becoming a doctor and playing football), Ama is a 39 year old woman, full of fear but, apparently not as much promise as Felix. At least that’s how it appears to me. Is this how the world should be? As Midlands Today so rightly pointed out, kidney disease is a big concern in Ghana, and were it not for this conference Felix would almost certainly have died within the next couple of months. I am not quite sure how the doctors justify saving one young boy over any of the hundreds and hundreds of others who need similar operations. I’m not quite sure how they can have the right to decide that one person is worth more than another simply because the former has the gumption to speak publically about his plight.

There are but two options then. Firstly is the harsh, but fair way of not bringing anybody over. This way means that everybody still suffers, but no-one has had to make a decision on who should live and who perhaps shouldn’t.

The second way is to save one person every six months (or however long it will be until the next story of a similar nature breaks). At least then there has been some action taken, and someone has been saved.

For me, I think I fall into the first camp. I couldn’t justify picking any one person to live, and by definition, hundreds of others to die, simply because that is not my right. Explaining why one person is more important than any other is not something I can actually do, especially when I know my decision will be a death sentence for the others. I don’t believe in God, and therefore cannot work out who should have that right, if anyone at all; but I do know that for me personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable with making the call.

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One response

4 03 2008
Chris Shearman

Yes – you touch on some excellent points there. The decision is very difficult about who should live and who shouldn’t. The charity does not normally perform operations in the UK, but takes medical staff to third world countries to set up transplant facilities there and to train staff to perform the operations. The logistics of setting up such a facility in this case meant that by the time this was done, Felix would not have survived. So – it was a difficult call, and not one that was taken lightly. The charity recognise that this is not a repeatable pattern. It wasn’t a situation they could turn away from either. I think the difference in the two cases you cite is that in one, it was a government decision based on policy, and in the other it was the decision of a very small charity struggling for funds trying to do the very best for a deserving case whilst at the same time continuing to implement longer term plans that will help many more people.

It is not the case that transplant facilities are widely available in Ghana currently, and as I mention above – it is not the general policy of the charity to bring patients to the UK for treatment.

More information on the charity’s work is available here http://www.transplantlinks.org.

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