Africans, however, have consistently placed a high value on health care because good health is regarded as the basis for economic development and social growth. Historically, they have viewed health holistically, that is as the sum total of the physical, mental and social well-being of the human being, not unlike the World Health Organization. Health care is regarded in many regions as "baraka" (blessing). Traditional African ideas of disease and their origins are well established in the respective cosmologies and are said to determine when, where, and how (or indeed if) treatment will be sought.

     At the risk of oversimplifying the complex moral, religious and indeed practical questions involved in African attitudes toward the donation of organs, we will note several points. While in general, many traditional ethical systems and ontologies believe that the transfer, removal or donation of organs does not affect the afterlife because the human body after physical death is unimportant in the spiritual world, others differ. Those holding reincarnation as a central feature of their faiths find it necessary for the "returnee’ to possess all limbs and organs should they be needed again in the "new reincarnated life." A deceased Akan is allocated clothes and other material items that might be required upon arriving in the other world, including coins to pay the boatman for the crossing. 

     Some scholars observe that this is more than a symbolic gesture because the other world, "extra-human" beings of the Akan worldview are neither fully material nor fully immaterial. Thus it is highly possible for the Wolof of Senegambia to reply to our request for an organ donation with the question: " What shall I use in the next world if I give you my organ upon my death?" And, a similar inquiry might easily be put to us by the Christian, who asks in turn "with what shall I rise on the day of resurrection?"                        


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June 2001