Last week, V Sasikala, former aide to the late Jayalalithaa was released on a five-day parole from a Bengaluru jail to meet her ailing husband, M Natarajan, who underwent a dual organ transplant - for his kidney and the liver.
There is now controversy over the process by which Natarajan received said organs. The donor in question is a young daily wage laborer, 19-year-old N Karthik. He used to put up banners of political parties in his village to earn a daily wage. According to a friend, he said of Karthik, “Karthik used to get Rs 50 for a banner, and on some days, could earn up to Rs 500. But mostly, he was jobless”.
Karthik, who hails from the Pudukkottai district in Tamil Nadu and was admitted to the Government Medical College Hospital in Thanjavur late last month. He had severe head injuries and was then airlifted to Chennai where he was declared brain dead.
Officials at the Gleneagles Global Health City Hospital, where Natarajan is being treated denied any irregularities saying in part, “Against medical advice, the family decided to move him to a private hospital for second opinion and specialised care. The family chose to transfer him to Glenegales Global Hospitals in Chennai for further specialised care. The patient was seen by neurological and trauma team and provided further treatment at the centre."
The controversy is focused on whether Natarajan, given his VIP status, was able to jump the queue on the organ donation list. One senior professor at a government medical college raised the question of how a daily wage laborer’s parents could afford the cost for their son to be airlifted and whether there were any irregularities with regard to the waiting list at the Transplant Authority of Tamil Nadu.
Later reports counter this narrative as family members stated that he was transferred by road in an ambulance to Chennai. The family was, according the medical officials, informed of the option to harvest his organs for donations.
The BJP’s Tamil Nadu president Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan demanded a probe into the process of how Natarajan was able to get an organ transplant relatively quickly. She alleged that there were several violations and rules were flouted.
The country’s Director General of Health Services, Dr Jagdish Prasad, said, “Shifting such a critical patient is wrong, when a facility [of supporting a critical accident patient] is available”. He also called for an investigation into this particular transplant process and said the organs could have been retrieved at the hospital and given to someone who was deserving of it.
Adding to Dr Prasad’s point, in many states including Tamil Nadu, the hospital that retrieves the organs gets the first right to transplant a certain number of organs. Organ donations come under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994. The priority is based on how long patients have been on the list and on how urgently they may need organs.
Natarajan had been on the waiting list since April. The appointment as member secretary of TANSTAN, Dr P Balaji is being questioned in a petition filed by a NGO named Change India. It alleges that the appointment was a case of quid pro quo.
The petitioner against Dr. Balaji alleges that the way in which the organs were made available for Natarajan; there could be a case for criminal conspiracy. He said, “The patient was possibly brain dead in Thanjavur, but he was allowed to be airlifted by saying he is critical, only to ensure the Chennai hospital got the home hospital status. Or maybe the doctors in Thanjavur didn't make an effort to save him and instead allowed him to fly out”.
As the parole of Sasikala ends, it remains to be seen if any law enforcement or medical body will conduct an investigation or look into whether one is required at all.
More columns by Varun Sukumar