Wed, Jul 03, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Beliefs hampering organ donation

While Taiwanese society has become more progressive in many areas, including legalizing same-sex marriage and implementing a decisive and effective plan to phase out plastics, some old habits still die hard.

Keeping traditions are important, but it is never a good sign when these impede vital services. The Taipei Times last week reported that a national shortage of organs continues to worsen even as an aging society is causing demand to rise.

The main issue is the belief in keeping one’s body intact for burial, and while a donor might be willing, family members might not want to risk letting their loved ones go to the underworld with missing organs.

The numbers are jarring — those awaiting organ transplants in Taiwan are estimated to exceed 10,000 by the end of this year, while there are only 324 registered organ donors.

The number of donors has increased from 264 in 2015, but it marked a slight drop from 2017. Taiwan’s 14.2 donors per 1 million people significantly lags many European countries as well as the US.

Taiwan has shown that people can live with adjustments in religious practices — many balked when Xingtian Gong Temple in Taipei banned burning joss paper and incense in 2014, but a July 2017 report showed that the number of its worshipers continued to increase.

The article also shows that religious rules can be bent, as it mentions one family who refused to donate the cornea of a loved one until their religious adviser told them that the dead need their heart to navigate the netherworld, not their eyes.

The government this year increased incentives for hospitals and donors, but the cost or benefits do not seem to be the problem.

Public education is key to changing beliefs, and as evident from the aforementioned example, religious organizations or personnel could make a big difference, as people would likely trust them more on matters relating to the afterlife than doctors.

Promoting the idea of doing good deeds and saving lives might move the hearts of younger people, but it is less likely to convince older people who are more concerned about preserving a body.

Entertainment is also a great avenue — Public Television Service, which has been putting out excellent Taiwanese dramas of late, tackled the issue with The Coordinators (生死接線員), which concluded last month.

Before the show’s final episode, the main actors led by example and signed up as organ donors.

Director Maso Chen (陳志漢) explored donating bodies for dissection at medical schools in his acclaimed 2017 documentary The Silent Teacher (那個陽光靜默的午後), and it is great to see mainstream channels joining in.

The situation has reached the point where the government is considering an opt-out system for donations, making anyone who has not indicated that they do not want to donate their organs an automatic donor.

This is practiced in about 20 other nations, but doing so abruptly would run the risk of making people even more averse to donation and will likely lead to more conflicts with hospital staff, who already face a tough task dealing with family members who refuse to donate the organs of their loved ones.

The culture needs to change, but how long will people who need organ transplants have to wait?

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