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A pledge can mean life after your death

Though families welcome the TN government’s decision to accord a State funeral to every organ donor, public health experts opine that it cannot guarantee actual donation as the medical and legal processes are both quite complex.

A pledge can mean life after your death

Illustration by Saai

CHENNAI: Donating the organs of a deceased loved one is a tough decision for any family member. While the announcement of State honours does encourage the public to take the donor pledge, it still does not take away the emotional quotient of being the family of a donor.

The first cadaver organ donation in Tamil Nadu was in 2008 from Hithendran, a road traffic accident victim. His parents, who were doctors, volunteered to donate his organs. Dr S Ashokan, the donor’s father, believes that organ donation in the State has come a long way in the past 15 years.

“Organ donation is voluntary and relatives of the deceased will have to decide if the organs can be donated. The donor does not get anything out of this. It’s a sacrifice that the family chooses to make,” explains Dr Ashokan. “When we decided to do it, we wanted to ensure his death was not in vain. Knowing that he gave life to at least 5 other people makes us happy. We feel at peace to know that our son lives in someone else.”

He adds that respect tops everything a family needs. That’s why the State honours announced by the government for an organ donor deserves appreciation and respect in the society.

“You cannot encourage organ donation by investing money in it but respect towards the donor and the family makes a difference. The family feels recognised and this sends a message to the society about organ donation,” he opines. “The government’s decision on State honours to brain-dead donors will encourage more people to volunteer for donation. But, it’s important that the brain-dead certifications are done transparently.”

Difficult decision

Saranya (23) donated her husband’s organs after he met with a traffic accident and was declared brain-dead. She was initially against it but changed her mind when she understood what it would mean for her husband’s memory.

“My husband was kind and did charity as a way of life. He would offer food to the poor and beggars regularly. When doctors declared him brain-dead, I was asked if I would like to donate his organs. After thinking about it, I realised that nothing would have been more important to him, and chose to donate his organs. Now, he lives through others,” says Saranya.

In another incident, S Prema decided to donate the organs of her husband, a victim of a road accident. She wanted to donate his organs because she knew it would help save someone’s life

“What more could anyone ask for? People making this sacrifice deserve the respect this State government has decided to give. I’m also planning to pledge my organs, and I know that it would be the best decision I’d make,” she adds.

Respect to families

Most people who chose to pledge their organs opine that the State honours seem like a respectful goodbye to the deceased and their families.

KR Gopalan took the pledge to donate his organs as he believes that State honours would not only mean respect to him but also for his family in the society. “People believe that they cannot get the VIP treatment when they die unless they have achieved something exceptional. But State honours for a donor’s funeral would certainly mean a lot to the families, especially in rural areas, irrespective of their loved ones’ achievements,” he opined.

A respectful final farewell is anyone’s wish, and a State funeral validates the family’s sacrifice in a society. And it also sets an example for others to pledge for organ donation.

“It’s a pivotal move by the government. It motivates others to pledge their organs,” says Gokul Kanagaraj, who has pledged his organs.

Families’ role

While an increase in the number of pledges of organ donation is a heartening sign, which indicates willingness among the public to donate their organs has increased, experts say that not all donations come from brain-dead patients.

Dr Amalorpavanathan Joseph, vascular surgeon and a key person in starting the Cadaver Organ Donation Programme in the State, points to several factors are important other than the pledge.

“Declaring a patient brain dead, donation of organs and their timely retrieval, and transplant compatibility are all important here,” he adds. “Also, not all donated organs come from those who have taken the pledge. You have to remember that organ donation cannot be enforced as a pledge is not binding by the law and the final rights rest with the family.”

Health factors and the utilisation ability of the organs are the main factors that need to be considered before organ transplant of any brain-dead person. While a brain-dead declaration being a complex process, the enforcement of pledge as a legal document in such a case cannot be done, experts say, who also opine that only after the public is more sensitised on these topics, can there be a spike in the number of actual donations.

“The rise in pledges does not seem to be translating into the number of donors. We cannot use the pledge card as a license to use the organs, and there is fear of it being misused as well. Therefore, it cannot be enforced,” states a senior official of the State Health Department. “You have no legal rights over your body after you’re dead. Even if a person has pledged the organs and communicated it to their immediate family members, their organs can be retrieved and donated only if the latter agrees to do the same and give the hospital a written consent.”

Leading by example...

The announcement of State honours has attracted wide attention across the country and similar initiatives have come up in other States. Officials with the Transplant

ity of Tamil Nadu say that they were being contacted about the implementation of a similar policy in other States. Even before the announcement, the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital would conduct an honour walk with students of the Madras Medical College after the organs were retrieved. Students marched with the mortal remains of the donors. Health Minister Ma Subramanian recently pledged his organs, and said that the State Health Department aims to completely remove the wait-list of organs in TN. “Kalaignar Karunanidhi started the organ donation programme in 2007. When CM Stalin announced State honours to donors and their families, I wanted to lead by example and so, I pledged my organs. We urge people to encourage organ donation and make it a public movement,” he had said.

Shweta Tripathi
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