Call for memorial day to raise awareness of body donation

Updated: 2011-07-14 07:56

By Zheng Xin (China Daily)

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BEIJING - A special day to honor people who donate their bodies to medical science after their death could be launched in the future to encourage more people to volunteer.

The Red Cross Society of Beijing and the Beijing Society for Anatomical Sciences are working together to establish a memorial day on the Saturday or Sunday before Qingming, or Tomb-sweeping Day, on April 5.

It is hoped the day will change traditional attitudes toward donations and ease the shortage in cadavers for medical teaching and research.

In 2010, 146 people in Beijing pledged their bodies, up by 28 percent from the previous year. However, experts said the number is still far from enough.Wang Wei, director at the voluntary body donation registration station at Capital Medical University, said his office has received 12 donations this year and got 35 in 2010.

"The number of bodies is far from enough for medical studies," said Sun Pengshuo, spokesman for the Red Cross Society of Beijing. "The biggest obstacle in body donation so far is the public's concept of death and burial.

"We want to raise awareness of body donation to encourage more people to volunteer and alleviate the scarcity of body parts for medical research."

In China, most people still cling to the traditional practice of ground burial and are against the notion of donating bodies, especially in the countryside. Many consider it disrespectful.

"I wish to donate my body after death," said Kang Kai, an IT worker from Tianjin. "But my parents are against it. They believe the dead should be buried intact."

Sun said setting up a memorial day for donors will take a lot of time and he is not sure whether the proposal will be approved by the municipal government.

"We have just started the application," said Sun. "Even if the proposal is rejected, we will have regular ceremonies in memory of donors every weekend before Tomb-sweeping Day."

Volunteers go through a notarization procedure before signing up for body donation. When donors die, their bodies are sent to Peking Union Medical College, Peking University Health Science Center or Capital Medical University.

Although family members are still required to give their consent, Sun explained that they are not given any information about how a relative's body will be used.

Some people say informing the next of kin about the intended use might offer more comfort.

"I would find it better if I was told what would be done to the body," Lu Bin, an employee at the CITIC Trust, told China Daily. "I would have the right to supervise the use of the bodies and whether they are buried with honor and care after being used for medical purposes and not sold on the black market."

However, Sun disagreed: "It might be too upsetting to inform relatives of all the details."

Beijing authorities are expected to hold a forum soon so the public can discuss the proposal for a memorial day.

China Daily

(China Daily 07/14/2011 page7)