by Thu Van
I have never thought about donating my organs.
Probably because I have never thought about how I would die, and I guess many people are just like me.
But then just a few weeks ago, the news about Vietnamese Minister of Health Tran Thi Kim Tien's decision to sign up for organ donations after her death triggered some thoughts in my mind.
First, the idea is a bit scary in an unexplainable way for me.
Then, as I keep reading and reading about the matter, organ donation has become something like blood donation to me. Of course, it's a much more complicated and lengthy process, but basically, it's not that horrible and scary as you may think.
Basically, for doctors to take your organs, you have to be brain-dead. It means you would feel nothing and know nothing. Doctors will also remove your organs in such a way that you will still look like everyone remembered you when you are lying in your coffin so that your friends' and family's grieving process is not affected.
In Viet Nam more than 16,000 patients with heart, kidney, liver and lung diseases and more than 6,000 blind people are waiting for donors. Many have died during the wait as the number of donors remains modest.
Over the past two decades, organ donations have helped more than 1,100 kidney transplants, 48 liver transplants, 13 heart transplants and more than 1,400 cornea transplants.
And while Vietnamese law allows those who are over 18 to sign up for organ donations after they're dead, or brain-dead, only 26 out of 1,000 brain-dead patients at Viet Duc Hospital in Ha Noi have donated their organs in the past five years.
The deep-rooted thought among many Vietnamese people is that even when they're dead, one's body should be kept as a whole and untouched, and this is a major hindrance for organ donations. Many believe in life after death, saying that their spirits will need their bodies after this life, and refuse to have any organs removed after they die.
Well, that's their choices, and of course, they have any right in the world to do so.
I can understand it's a hard and emotional decision, especially when you think about organ donation, because you also think about being dead. No one would ever want to imagine they're lying on a hospital bed in a state of limbo, brain-dead, with people talking about taking your heart, lungs or liver. Or people just can't stand the thought of organs being removed from their loved ones.
But you should also think about this if you have a loved one who is awaiting a transplant.
Maybe an eye donation would offer the gift of sight. Maybe that kidney, lung or heart transplant could save your loved one and give them the chance to lead a healthy, productive life.
You'd hope and pray for a donor, just like the families of those 16,000 patients who are praying now.
While you need to know that signing up doesn't always mean your organs will actually be used, it's still a ray of hope. What is this life after death that they care so much about? We do not even know for sure it exists. What we can be sure of is that donating your organs might save some one's life. That's life after death.
"Even if you're a follower of any religion: there's no religions that say you have to keep your body intact when you're dead. On the other hand, I think the basis of almost every religion is do things to others as you would have done to you. Being an organ donator is one of the most life-sustaining, altruistic and wonderful things people can do," said Nguyen Hoang Phuc, vice director of the National Centre for Co-ordinating Human Organ Transplants.
He also said misunderstandings about what constitutes brain death — that is, a person may continue to breath and their heart pump, even though their brain has irrevocably ceased to function — prevent people from agreeing to give organs.
"When somebody is declared brain dead, it's not really correct to say that they are on life support anymore even with the ventilator, because they're dead. There's no chance they're going to come back to life. The ventilator is not life support, it's physical support for the organs only," said Trinh Hong Son, deputy head of Viet Duc Hospital.
Son also said that in many countries, organs used for up to 90 per cent of transplant surgeries are from brain-dead donors.
"If only a quarter of brain-dead patients donated their organs, so many lives would be saved or strengthened. If a person donates only their internal organs, potentially eight people could be saved," he said.
In July, organs from a brain-dead patient in HCM City saved the lives of six others. The two kidneys and the liver were transplanted to three patients in Cho Ray Hospital (a liver cancer patient and two patients suffering from end-stage chronic renal failure). The heart and the lungs were transported to the central city of Hue for two patients, while the corneas were transplanted to two poor patients.
In September, the heart and liver of a donor were transported nearly 2,000km from HCM City to Ha Noi to save two people.
Aren't those just wonderful stories? Life-changing gifts to the recipients and their families. And when a loved one has gone away for good, isn't it magical that parts of them are still alive?
In many developed countries, people can declare on their driving licences they are willing to be donors in the event of a fatal accident, and hospitals maintain meticulous records of those in need of transplants so matches can be made within hours while the organs of the deceased are still viable. In Viet Nam, you can go to any health facility nationwide to sign up.
Whether it's a check on your driving licence or an organ donor card, the act carries the same message: we do believe in "life after death". — VNS