Organ donors needed

Visualizing a bustling Shanghai market normally conjures images of a crowded square, rickshaws and merchants peddling their wares such as DVDs, rugs and innumerous plastic trinkets. In contrast, an iced human heart or lung does not usually fit anywhere in this picture – but Chinese immigrant Dr. Wang Guoqi thinks it should.

China harvests the organs, tissues and corneas from their executed prisoners, Guoqi told a House of Representatives subcommittee on human rights, sometimes without waiting for the prisoners’ heart to stop. These organs – removed without consent – are available to foreign recipients, including U.S. citizens, for transplant by Chinese doctors, resulting in the inequity of organ allocation to the rich.

“We consider that highly unethical,” said Dr. William Harmon, President-elect of the American Society of Transplantation.

This year 5,000 or more prisoners will probably be put to death in China, The New York Times reported.

The National Organ Transplant Act makes it illegal to buy or sell organs in the United States. It protects against the inequitable and inhumane practices occurring in China. However, there are no laws stopping Americans from going to China to receive transplants. Also, even if doctors find the practice unethical they must still treat the returning patients. And the idea of punishing a citizen for something they did legally in another country is an affront to national sovereignty.

Ostensibly this creates an ethical conundrum. Yet there is an answer. It’s the same solution organizations like the United Network for Organ Sharing have been advocating for years – become an organ donor. The reason people go to China is because the U.S. supply of organs is nowhere near the nation’s demand. As of Nov. 9, there are 78,886 people in need of a transplant. Sadly, only 22,953 people received transplants last year, a disparity resulting in unnecessary death.

“About 15 people die a day waiting,” said Anne Paschke, spokeswoman for UNOS.

The federal government currently pays sick leave to living donors. These benefits should be provided to state and private employees as well. Also, like the honorable firemen and policemen who die saving lives, benefits should be provided for the families of those who choose to donate organs when they die.

To become an organ donor all you have to do is tell family members that you wish to donate and get it marked on your driver’s license.

“People are dying and we can all make a difference if we just make that decision,” said Paschke. “One person can take up to eight people off the waiting list, so one person can make a difference.”