Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A gift of life

Editorial: New Straits Times
VERY few people have the chance to be a hero in the conventional sense of the word. But everyone has the opportunity to pledge an organ and potentially save a life, even many lives. Sadly, many people don't. And because of that, many of those who desperately need an organ transplant to just continue living, die. In Malaysia, more than 15,000 people are waiting for organ transplants, almost all of whom suffer from kidney failure; surviving only because millions of ringgit in government grants are poured into haemodialysis treatment.

Although live donations often come to mind, transplant surgeons say these would not even be necessary if enough people pledged to donate their organs upon death (cadaveric donors). Unfortunately, in Malaysia, with only 188,147 people signed up as donors, there are only 0.66 donors per million. This figure is positively miniscule, when compared with that of Spain, which has a rate of 35 donors per million, the highest in the world.
Around the world, the demand for organs is increasing; but not the supply. Driven by desperation, some ill people resort to illegally and unethically trafficked organs, or transplant tourism, in countries where medical laws are lax. The challenge for ethics-observing countries is how to increase pledges. Many countries, like Malaysia, have a voluntary opt-in system. Some, like Spain, Belgium, Norway and Singapore, practise the opt-out system, in which consent is presumed to be given, unless the person formally states that he does not wish to donate. Some, like Israel, give those who agree to become organ donors priority treatment if they find themselves needing an organ transplant.
However, the opt-out system means nothing without the consent of the next of kin. Singapore's system is considered particularly harsh because consent of kin is not needed. Spain, however, requires family consent; but its great achievement is not attributed to the opt-out system, but rather to infrastructure investment. Public awareness campaigns, 24-hour organ retrieval teams in hospitals, more transplant coordinators and doctors trained to talk to grieving families, increase the efficiency of the system and raise confidence in it, resulting in more pledges.
Obviously, there are enough examples of systems that work, but their success depends on a government's commitment to make it work. With an expected 80 new cases of organ failure per one million population per year, Malaysia must start implementing proactive solutions, if it wishes to reduce the rising costs to this nation's pockets and heart.

“You Have the Power to Donate Life – to become an organ and tissue donor Sign-up today!
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
New Zealand, register at Organ Donation New Zealand
South Africa, http://www.odf.org.za/
United States, donatelife.net
United Kingdom, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You.

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