In 1985, Ayatollah Kohmeini issued a fatwa in favor of transgender people. Today, Iran's government pays for half of the cost of gender reassignment surgery. (AFP/File)

In 2007, when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejaddeclaredduring a Columbia University appearance, In Iran we dont have homosexuals like in your country, many chuckled. It seemed to verify the average persons preconceptions of the country as being primitive and socially backwards.Ahmadinejad was obviously wrong and his response spotlighted the fact that homophobia is a major issue in Iranian society. The event wasnt meant to facilitate a productive discussion on the Islamic Republics many failings though, it was meant to reassure Columbia students and faculty of their own progressiveness. Ahmadinejad got a podium. The audience got a way to criticize his ideological beliefs.

Orientalist thinking like this obviously has consequences in how we discuss and view Iran. It isnt just that we have trouble discussing the many problems that do exist in the country, such as human rights violations. We are also prevented from recognizing when Iran is doing things more or less right. Iran is actually far more progressive than many people realize on a number of issues. This is especially apparent when it comes to: organ donations, family planning, transgender surgery, drug rehabs, stem cell research, and HIV prevention.

Organ Donations

Iran is one of the few countries that permits the selling of an organkidneys to be preciseto another individual if they are undergoing organ failure. It wasnt until theIran-Iraq Warthat organ donations became a commonprocedurein the country, causing kidney transplants in particular to jump drastically, thanks to wartime and a dwindling supply of dialysis machines. Here is how itworks: two non-profits regulated by the Iranian governmenttheCharity Foundation for Special Diseasesand the Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP)implement a number of rules andregulationsfor the purchase and sale of organs. The charities are designed to find vendors and introduce them to recipients, checking the compatibility of a possible donation and ensuring a fair trade.

Rulessuch as physicians being able to give a medical assessment of the potential surgery, without being allowed to undertake the procedure itselfgo leagues in ensuring that a donation is compatible and that there is a fair trade. The government then reportedly pays a sum of about $1,200 as well as medical coverage to the donors. Through a non-profit, recipients are said to pay a few thousand dollars more. Interestingly, kidney donations themselves are banned from non-Iranian citizens, as well as international organ trading.

Accordingto CASKPs director Mostafa Ghassemi, In 2010, a total of 2,285 kidney transplants took place in the country, of which 1,690 kidneys were supplied from volunteers and 595 from those clinically brain-dead. The policy is a bit unnerving and controversial, but it has still been wildly successful. As of 1999, Irans kidney transplant waiting list no longer exists. As the CATO Institute points out, if a decades worth of reports in the transplant literature are to be believed, only one country in the world does not suffer from an organ shortage: Iran. Although Iran clearly does not serve as a model for solving most of the worlds problems, its method for solving its organ shortage is well worth examining.

Family Planning

While the United States begins a renewed debate on the use birth control and organizations like Planned Parenthood every so often, Iran was once known to have one of the premier family planning systems in the world. After the Iran-Iraq War came to an end in 1988, the country saw a jump in population growth thatcausedAyatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue fatwas or religious edicts so that contraceptives could be obtained free at government clinics, including thousands of new rural health centers.

In addition, Health workers promoted contraception as a way to leave more time between births and help reduce maternal and child mortality. Couples intending to marry were required to receive counseling in family planning. Irans family planning system was such an important stepforwardthat it was internationally acclaimed, and the then-Minister of Health ended up receiving the 2000 United Nations Population Award.

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