September 20, 2023 08:38
Fewer and fewer Koreans are willing to donate their organs so they can be used for life-saving transplants in case of their death.
According to the National Institute of Organ, Tissue and Blood Management, a mere 405 people who were pronounced brain-dead last year were registered organ donors, the lowest number in a decade. In contrast, patients waiting for organ transplants increase by 2,000 to 3,000 each year, bringing the waiting list last year to a record 49,765 people.
That means there are 122 times more people waiting for transplants than there are donors, and 7.9 people on the waiting list die every day.
This phenomenon is particularly striking in Korea. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 44.5 out of every 1 million people who are pronounced brain-dead in the U.S. signed up to donate their organs last year, 46.03 in Spain and 21.08 in the U.K.
But the number stood at only 7.8 in Korea, down by 1.3 from two years earlier.
"Koreans have an aversion to removing something from their own bodies or the bodies of their family members," said Kang Chi-young, the head of the Korean Organ Donors Society. "Add to this a lack of social prestige, and you end up with a bad view of organ donation."
Controversy erupted in 2017, when the family of an organ donor were told to pay for the handling of the corpse after the procedure was completed. That led to changes in the law and the government now covers the cost of handling a corpse following organ transplantation, but experts say more needs to be done.
For instance, many advanced countries offer psychological counseling to families of organ donors, but nothing of the kind exists in Korea.
"The consent of surviving family members is required for organ donation, and this was difficult to obtain during the coronavirus pandemic," a ministry official said. "Another factor was a decline in people dying from traffic accidents, or from cardiovascular diseases."
Under current law, organ donation is only allowed after brain death, but not after circulatory death -- i.e. when a donor who suffers cardiac arrest is left to die naturally but the organs are harvested while the patient is technically still alive.
In the U.S., DCD accounts for more than 30 percent of organ donations, and the ratio is 40 to 50 percent in Europe. Experts say extending donations to DCD will at least double the number of organ donors in Korea.
A staffer at the Korea Organ Donation Agency said, "We also need professional consultants to encourage surviving family to donate the organs of loved ones who die."
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