Şafak Pavey: ‘I spared myself; why didn’t Şevket?’

Şafak Pavey: ‘I spared myself; why didn’t Şevket?’

When I heard of the death of Şevket Çavdar, the first quadruple-limb transplant patient in Turkey, the first person I called was Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Şafak Pavey. Pavey lost her left arm and left leg in a train accident years ago and has been undergoing treatment for many years. I knew she was closely monitoring Şevket’s situation as well as developments in the field. 

“This was a high-risk surgery,” Pavey told me. “Let me talk about my own experience. I was also offered a similar option 12 years ago by a group of doctors in Sweden. They offered me a bone transplant for my left arm. But the potential side effects were enormous, and I was told that in order for the body to adapt to the new situation, I would have to take extremely powerful medication for up to three or four years. They openly told me that my health would be greatly affected, new nerves would not grow to control the new parts, and there was also the risk of gangrene. I could not bring myself to take this kind of risk even for just one arm. I decided that I could not be the subject of an experiment. I preferred to continue with my university education. I wonder if Şevket was told how life-threatening this procedure would be. I, at that time, regarded my life as more important than the surgery. I spared myself; why didn’t Şevket? I wonder if he thought of himself as worthless without arms and legs.” 

Şafak was sad. “The most important development in this field is not limb transplants, but stem cells,” she said. “I don’t know what was explained to Şevket. But a human rights-focused ethical stance is necessary in these kinds of situations.” 

I’ve been watching with horror for months as health news reports in the media pump surgeries like Çavdar’s as “huge achievements for Turkish medicine.” What response can I make to a mentality that stomps all over the human body just to be able to chant “Turkey is the greatest,” that has transformed a health issue into a Eurovision Song Contest, and that is trying to compete with the world for the highest number of simultaneous limb transplants, even though this does not contribute any new developments to the science of medicine? 

Also, what about making a laughing-stock of those who have received arm, leg, uterus, and face have transplants, who have been used as guinea pigs in surgeries said to be the first in of their kind in the world, putting them before news cameras night and day and broadcasting their progress via Facebook, just so that three people residing in Ankara can brag? While the rest of the world, from the United States to Japan, approached organ transplants with extreme caution, and has encountered many failures, is it understandable that Turkey embraces these difficult operations with so much enthusiasm? Well, what about live broadcasts of these critical surgeries as if they were dating shows? 

Just as I was thinking, “Doesn’t anyone in this country know about patient psychology or patient rights? Isn’t there anyone with common sense?” the bad news came. Şevket Çavdar, the quadruple-limb transplant patient, died at Hacettepe University. 

Unfortunately we have all collaborated in Şevket’s death: the media, the hospital and the government. The reason that operations like Çavdar’s are not carried out in the rest of the world is not that the doctors lack the skills; it is because the body rejects the transplanted organs despite extremely heavy medication. Meanwhile in Antalya this summer, a young woman received a uterus transplant, followed by a face transplant and double arm and leg transplants conducted on two young men. The face transplant patient is in front of cameras at every opportunity, rather than being under strict supervision. According to news reports, the uterus-transplant patient is preparing to conceive. I say God help us all.


Aslı Aydıntaşbaş is a columnist for Milliyet, in which this piece was published on Feb 29. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.