In India, at least 10 people die every day while waiting to get an organ for transplant. But despite acute shortage, Indians are highly selective about accepting organs or blood and that further creates hurdles in promoting cadaver donation, reveals a recent study.
The two-year long, web-based anonymous study (2011-2012) conducted by the University of Michigan, US, found people would feel ‘creeped out’ and were willing to decline an organ or blood that came from a murderer or thief. The recipient felt, says the study published in the journal Cognitive Science, their personality or behaviour will change into that of the donor person as a result.
“The recipients preferred to get an organ transplant, DNA transplant, or blood transfusion from a donor whose personality or behaviour matched theirs,” says Meredith Meyer, the study’s lead author and psychology research fellow.
India is already struggling to meet the organ demand for transplantation. Merely 0.3% undergo cadaver donations in the country, though more than one million people are estimated to be suffering from end-stage organ failure.
The situation in the armed forces though is far better. Armed Forces Organ Retrieval and Transplant Authority (AORTA) gets more donations because of the better orgainsed set up.
“Being from the forces, there is a greater trust in the doctor among patients and their families,” says a doctor in the Army Research and Referral Hospital, requesting anonymity.
Since the Organ Transplantation Act came into existence about two decades ago, the country has seen a little more than 1,000 cadaver donations.
World over, a protocol is followed that does not allow interaction between the donor and recipient families. “It is an unnatural and unhealthy bond, therefore, best avoided. We never tell the recipient’s family who donated,” says Dr Harsha Jauhari, chairman, transplant unit, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
“There are a lot of false notions in different communities like if eyes are retrieved, the dead won’t find a place in heaven; the person will be born without those organs that are retrieved in the next birth that people still believe in, making it difficult for our counsellors to convince them,” says a senior doctor at the AIIMS Trauma Centre.
The solution, feel experts, is to make it a talking point among people. “Most of the cadaver donations that we get are from families that have discussed organ donation at some point,” said Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director, Apollo Hospitals.
Juneja family donated organs of their only son
He would have celebrated his 21st birthday on June 18 but for his untimely death. His family decided to donate the organs of their only son after doctors declared him brain dead, following a road accident last December. His donated organs gave a new lease of life to at least 34 people.
“It was my decision to donate his organs as I had recently seen a documentary on organ donation and believed it was really a noble thing to do. And what better way to keep my child alive again than through people who got his organs,” said Madan Mohan Juneja, his father who runs a clothing business in east Delhi.
The immediate beneficiaries included a 58-year-old man suffering from end-stage liver failure and at least two other critically ill patients who received organ transplants a day after they were retrieved.
His heart valve, pancreas, cornea and at least 30 other organs were preserved for transplant by doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Trauma Centre, where the organ retrieval was conducted.
“It was a medico-legal case and they would have anyway conducted a post-mortem and disfigured him, I thought it was better to let them take away the organs and help others in need. I am happy that I took this decision; there’s so much peace now,” said Juneja.
Teenaged son encouraged her for transplant
She was fourth on the waiting list for a heart transplant. But Seema Khan, 34, who had a heart transplant at the AIIMS in October 2011, turned out to be lucky, as the first person on the list had passed away and the remaining two refused surgery.
She was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which heart becomes weak and enlarged and is unable to pump blood efficiently. “She had become bedridden, as the slightest movement would leave her severely breathless,” said KP Khan, her husband. Three months prior to the transplant surgery, the couple had registered for receiving the organ.
Doctors were all praise for the couple that did not back out like many others who develop cold feet at the last minute, despite registering for it.
The heart came from an Army jawan, who was declared brain dead at New Delhi’s Army Research and Referral Hospital. The couple give credit to their 14-year-old-son, Sahil, for removing their doubts.
“He searched the internet and retrieved every bit of the relevant data on heart transplant. He even showed us videos of the surgery that helped us make up our mind,” said Khan.
“It doesn’t matter who gave the organ as long as it saved my wife’s life,” he added.