Hong Kong must redouble efforts to educate people on the need to make organ donations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 1:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 1:09am

Life-saving organ transplants no longer make front-page news. But doctors remain publicists of cases that are out of the ordinary, willingly aided by media including this newspaper. They, and we, never give up in a respectful campaign to try to change a cultural mindset that makes it difficult for bereaved relatives to donate the organs of a loved one. A couple of widely reported cases are worth recalling. The family of a road accident victim donated her liver, kidneys, heart and a cornea to six people awaiting transplants because "she really liked to help others". And in a first of its kind, two daughters made live liver donations to form a new, life-saving liver for their father.

Sadly, these two cases did not inspire a surge in organ donations. At any time, more than 2,000 patients are on waiting lists for the donation of vital organs or tissues, mostly from deceased donors in accordance with the wishes of their families, who are all too often constrained by Chinese cultural tradition. Perhaps the poignant story of someone who has just died waiting for an organ, 19-year-old Jamella Mangali Lo, will make a difference where happy endings did not. She had been in critical condition in Queen Mary Hospital with primary pulmonary hypertension. For two weeks Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man lent his support to her doctors and family with public appeals to bereaved families to donate the lungs of deceased relatives to save her life. It was to no avail. Finally, the small window of opportunity for doctors to save her closed as her condition worsened.

As a result of this case, the government will discuss making all Hongkongers potential organ donors unless they explicitly opt out. This is likely to prove just as controversial as when it was raised and then dropped a decade ago. The reluctance of families coping with grief to break with the tradition of keeping the body of a loved one intact must be respected. But, equally, the effort to temper the mindset through education must continue. If it results in just one more instance of the most precious gift we can give within our power - life - it would be worth it.