Should non-profit organizations be the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves?

President Kaunda of Zambia once said [1]: "Inability of those in power to still the voices of their own conscience is the great force leading to desirable changes."

There are plenty of examples where those who are at the receiving end of indignation are unable to speak for themselves, or they are just incapable of demanding justice and an end to their misery and suffering. Anyone who has the ability to reduce this suffering has a moral obligation to do that.

Should the 5-year-old children [2] being sent to the Middle East to work as camel riders protest against this cruelty when several of them lose life and limb due to accidental falls during the camel races? Should the bonded labor working in the brick-kiln industry [3] stand-up and rid themselves of their predicament. They would not be sleeping while being chained like animals if they could. When President Kaunda spoke about those in power, he was talking about the colonizing powers of the West who were gradually freeing the African countries. Ordinary people may not have that kind of power, but they certainly have the power to raise their voices against injustice.

All major religions of the world implore their followers to help in reducing human suffering. The world has come a long way from the injustices of the past. Slavery, apartheid, racial discrimination would still be in practice if free and conscientious people had not taken up these causes and had not become 'mouthpiece' for the sufferers of these indignities. The racist government of South Africa had to agree to an end to apartheid due to the economic sanctions [4] against the regime. Racial discrimination in United States, the country that proclaims that all men are born equal, required Martin Luther King [5] and his black and white followers to launch a campaign against this social ill.

It is true that all of these campaigns were not conducted under the banners of 'non-profit organizations', but we cannot deny the fact that ending injustice and suffering has always required advocates to offer a helping hand or conduct an outright struggle to end injustice and suffering. Nowadays, non-profit organizations are taking up causes, which require human awareness and action. Most of these causes are non-controversial and very few people will argue with those causes. These organizations are also known as NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations).. It is comforting to know that there are conscientious and concerned groups and individuals who are willing to take up these causes and helping make the world a better place.

The maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Gharib Prison [6] was disclosed by an American Television channel. This disclosure helped in recognition of the problem and resulted in reducing the suffering of Iraqi prisoners. One might argue that prisoners are still being maltreated in Iraq. We do not know, but one thing is certain that the blatant violation of human rights and ill treatment of prisoners of war is not taking place with the same impunity because there are people in the world willing to become the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves!

Without dragging this discussion into the political arena, the Abu Gharib disclosure perhaps shows the controversial aspect often involved in such work. A large number of Americans, government functionaries included, argue that the disclosure did 'untold damage' to the U.S. war in Iraq and ABC (an American TV channel) should not have disclosed this information. Similarly the work being done by some NGO's creates a lot of controversy.

Euthanasia and abortion are examples of two such issues inciting intense debate. Non-profit organizations are involved on both supporting [7] and opposing sides. Abortion supporters argue that bringing an unwanted baby into this world will create problems for both the baby and its parents. It is better to abort an unwanted pregnancy for the benefit of all concerned including the fetus. Many people who believe that a woman has a right to her body and has the right to choose to keep or abort the pregnancy support the pro-abortion lobby. Those who believe that unwanted child is unlikely to be well cared also support the pro-abortion organizations. Others believe that in a number of cases such as in societies where children born out-of-wedlock create problems for both woman and child, pregnancy resulting from rape etc. can be aborted for psychological health of mother and child.

The anti-abortion [8] or Pro-life supporters believe that once conceived the fetus is a living being and has as much right-to-life as any other person. Pro-life supporters include those who are intensely religious and object to abortion on religious grounds and do not consider abortion as an option under any circumstances. Thus there are two types of non-profit organizations supporting pro- and anti-abortion campaigns. Both claim to be the mouthpiece for the interest of the unborn children, who cannot speak for themselves. Should these organizations act as such, the answer is a resounding yes.

Intense debates of these organizations bring out the pros and cons of both arguments resulting in an outcome, which at least will offer some kind of control over abortions through laws and regulations. We must appreciate that abortion takes place in all countries whether it is legal or illegal in those countries. In some countries declaring oneself an unmarried mother could mean certain death for the woman, in all such cases abortion is the only choice whether it is through the risky back-street shacks or through sympathetic trained doctors.

Euthanasia or mercy killing is a Greek word actually meaning 'good or happy death' but in today's terminology Euthanasia means to "allow" someone to die, either at the hands of someone else, or at his or her own hands.

Euthanasia has become a highly controversial topic. Is it possible to imagine a level of pain or suffering where suicide is the best way out? Could we imagine a point in someone's life where life could be considered as unworthy of life? Even if the answer to this question is yes, does anyone have the right to end life? The Sept 11 incident of World Trade Towers still reminds us of the pictures where people were jumping of the towers to a certain death. Those people could see a very painful death and it was their choice to end life by jumping off the towers rather than suffer the unbearable suffocation and burning to death in the fire that had engulfed their floor. They chose to die in a less painful way. This could be considered euthanasia where someone ended life with his own hand using what to him or her was a less painful death. This perhaps is not a good example, but it does show that there are situations where people would prefer a less painful and quicker death.

Euthanasia means intentionally making someone die. In euthanasia, one person does something that directly kills another [9]. In voluntary euthanasia a person injects a lethal dose of poison to kill himself. In some cases doctor set-up the system to inject the lethal dose and the terminally ill patient himself injected the dose to avoid legal implications of murder. Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) and other means of ending life of a terminally ill person are all described as euthanasia.

Euthanasia is certainly an intensely controversial topic and like pro- and anti-abortion advocates of abortion debate, pro-euthanasia and pro-life argument excite high emotions. In this case the debates are opening a topic that certainly requires compassionate consideration. Should the doctors prolong life of a vegetative patient who has been on life support for years without any sign of recovery?

This debate very recently played on television all over the world [10] when in the Terri Schiavo Case. In this case, husband of Terri Schiavo, a vegetative patient, fought in courts to implement a promise he made to his wife for euthanasia in such an event.

The woman's parents and supporters for anti-euthanasia movement opposed withdrawal of the feeding tube and took the case right up to the Supreme Court. Terry Chiavo was eventually allowed to die as she wished, but the debate regarding euthanasia lives on.

This intense debate will help in formulating the laws regarding euthanasia and not allow anyone to bulldoze the regulations before careful consideration of the case. Recently when British government planned a Mental Health Bill [11], the anti-euthanasia bodies were alarmed and called it an attempt to introduce 'euthanasia by back door'

The controversial and non-controversial causes involving human suffering do require our public awareness. In this role non-profit organizations have done a great job in creating public awareness and also taking concrete action to improve life of the under privileged and suffering. The Grameen Bank [12], the Orangi Pilot Project [13] are just two examples where action of non-profit organizations has resulted in a positive change.

The NGO Controversy

The role of acting for a change, and helping to…