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A precious gift

A few weeks ago Hong Kong hosted the 26th International Congress of The Transplantation Society from August 18 to 22, the first by a Chinese city, indicative that the significant increase in organ donations in China has come under the spotlight.

Last year, 2,766 donors gave 7,785 major organs, higher than the combined total for 2013 and 2014. In the first half of this year alone, the number of donated organs reached 5,029, up 45 per cent year-on-year. 

In terms of donors per million people, China ranks 44th on the global list.

This is a great improvement given the dismal number donated in the past along with the country’s decision to not use the organs of executed convicts from January 1 last year. 

China now strictly follows the principle that willing donors should be the only source of organs used in transplants.

That principle, together with transparency and more willing donors, will help the rumours about donated organs to die a natural death.

José Ramón Núñez Peña, a medical officer for the World Health Organisation, lauded the development saying that donated organs are being better distributed among those who need them.

Yet some have questioned the sources of donated organs in China, with a few still claiming that the organs of executed convicts are harvested for transplants.

Hong Kong ranks among the world’s worst for organ donations. 

A study by the Legislative Council shows that as at July 14 there were only 5.8 donors per million people. In a related development, the South China Morning Post reported on September 26 that the Hong Kong Eye Hospital will hire four additional staff for its cornea donation team in the hopes of boosting transplant patients by 25 per cent. This will cut waiting times for 400 patients in need. 

I think we will be reading more and more articles in Hong Kong newspapers about the interest and increase in organ donation of all kinds.

Recently, in a letter to the editor in the South China Morning Post on September 24, the writer expressed his views on the secondary teaching material developed by the Hong Kong Organ Transplant Foundation saying that the donation rate in Hong Kong is low because of superficial knowledge about organ donation. 

“People think donation may have negative health effects or simply do not know how to register as a donor,” he wrote, pointing out that education is the best way to inform young minds about the significance and advantages of organ donation. 

He expressed his belief that students can gain a deeper understanding through learning from the materials and class discussions. 

“They will know how to register as a donor and that becoming a donor would have little or no effect on their health. They will also know they are making a life-changing decision,” he wrote, arguing that this would result in young people being more willing to be donors, thus increasing the donation rate. 

The letter also notes that the donation rate in Hong Kong has stayed low because of traditional Chinese beliefs about keeping the body intact after death.

In order to change this, the teaching materials incorporate perspectives from different religions including Protestantism, Catholicism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Islam, with leaders of all faiths making positive comments on organ donation.

Some facts 

Many people die each day while waiting for a transplant.

A single donor can save eight lives and change the lives of more than 50 people.

Almost anyone can be an organ donor, regardless of age or medical history.

Most major religions support organ donation.

An easy way to promote organ donation is to encourage the family to donate, if possible, an organ a loved one needs. This will help the idea of organ donation to take root among the people.

Besides, the rate of survival is higher and life expectancy longer for those living with organs donated by their close relatives. 

A 68-year-old British woman, Sue Westhead, recently drew global attention for having lived with a kidney donated by her mother 43 years ago. 

Westhead, who is still going strong, was diagnosed with a kidney ailment in 1973 when she was just 25-years-old. This quickly worsened and her mother, who was then 57, donated a kidney to save her life. 

Westhead’s mother died in 1985, but her kidney lives in her daughter’s body. In fact, the kidney is exactly 100 years old.

Recently the organs of a 22 year-old man from Jieyang, Guangdong, who was killed in a traffic accident, were used to treat seven people after his death.  

Wu Yuanxuan, a migrant worker in Dongguan, was seriously injured in the accident on September 3. When Wu was confirmed brain dead on September 6, his family decided to donate his organs, so his heart, lungs, liver, kidney and corneas were used to treat patients in Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuxi (China Daily, September 19).


What does the Catholic Church say organ donation?

Donating an organ is a precious gift given to another, as long as it “is done with full consent and not part of a business transaction.”

Donating a kidney to save the life of a friend, for instance, can certainly be done with the full blessing of the Church to save the life of a friend or relative. Donation after death is also acceptable as long as consent is given. 

Catholics have been told that we will be reunited body and soul after the resurrection on the last day, so what will happen when some of our organs have been given to another? 

This is not a problem, as a resurrected body is not a resuscitated body. Remember that Mary of Magdala confused Jesus with the gardener, so his resurrected body did not necessarily look like his old one and this is a foretaste of what will happen to us.

The second point is that all things are possible with God. If we donate skin and eyes and hearts and lungs for others, why would we think God couldn’t somehow reunite all of us with our body parts once again? Just have faith that God will make all things new again, however that might happen. 

Pope Francis described the act of organ donation as a “testimony of love for our neighbour.” 

On 20 September 2014, the pope met with the then-mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, who was accompanied by a group of surgeons specialising in organ transplants. The surgeons are among a group fighting the commercial exploitation of human organs. 

Each year, the World Health Organisation estimates thousands of organs are transplanted illicitly across the world. 

There are places where a person can sell one of their organs for a little money, which will later be sold for thousands or more. After this meeting, the pope did not mince his words. 

He authorised journalists to say publicly that we need the donation of organs out of compassion, but that the trade in organs is immoral and a crime against humanity.

The Anglican Church in Hong Kong has the Act of Love programme which promotes mutual help and sharing among its members.

The To Love is to Give Supporting Organ Donation Campaign has been a core activity of the project since 2011. 

It promotes organ donation throughout the year. By taking part, people, their families and friends share Christ’s love with organ recipients.

Donors, recipients, as well as their families and friends share their stories and it is hoped that people will be encouraged to go the extra mile for those in need. 

The promotion of organ donation will encourage more people to know about it and take part, giving hundreds of patients appropriate treatment and hope. 

Since organ donation is a technology that has developed only in the past few decades, the bible, which was written some two thousand years ago, certainly does not contain a specific word related to this topic. Yet it does record the first heart transplant in history. 

The physician who carried out this operation was no celebrity, but God our Lord. “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a new heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). 

This heart transplant replaces a person’s hardened heart with a soft, receptive one, which allows people to listen to God’s words. Of course, this religious metaphorical operation and the actual medical heart transplantation cannot be mentioned in the same breath.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say:

Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons (2296).

Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious (2301).

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Luke 10: 27-37).