It is an initiative that seems to be progressing towards a slow death and is in dire need of a revival.
The Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER)’s programme to get families of brain-dead patients (people whose hearts are beating, but brain is dead) to agree to donate organs of their loved one, lying comatose, has failed to get the desired response.
Six years after the programme was launched in 2008, only 8% of such patients could be convinced to donate organs due to little knowledge of the concept of brain death and organ donation, a study by the department of nephrology at the institute has discovered.
The study was carried out over six months on 80 male brain-dead patients, from 36 years to 67 years. All these patients were on ventilators with no signs of respiratory activity and dilated, fixed and non-reacting pupils.
All were technically brain-dead.
On being asked to give consent for organ donation, 41 of the 80 families refused. “Family refusal in majority of cases reflects poor knowledge and thus, warrants interventions at community level,” the study observed.
“Deceased donor organ programme is still in its infancy in India. Identifying barriers to its utilisation are required,” the study added.
Significantly, the PGIMER performed the region’s first liver transplant in 2011 and heart transplant in 2013. In both cases, organs were procured from the brain-dead patients. The institute also waived hospital charges for brain-dead patients whose families agreed to donate organs.
WHAT IS BRAIN DEATH?
Brain death is the irreversible end of all brain activity due to total death of the cells of the central nervous system following loss of blood flow and oxygenation. Most organ donation for transplant is done from such patients, if the brain-death occurs in a hospital. In 1994, the Government of India passed the Transplantation of Human Organs Act that legalised the concept of brain death and facilitated organ procurement from heart beating and braindead donors.
Experts say that organs from one donor can save or help as many as 50 people. A person can donate kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs, skin, bone and bone marrow, cornea, etc.