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Helongjiang seek guarantees for organ donations
By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-11-23 00:44

Regulations may be needed to standardize the donation and transplant of human organs in Heilongjiang Province.

In order to better help people suffering from a number of diseases local members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, have called for a legal framework for donations and transplants of human organs such as corneas.

Statistics from the First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University show that about 10,000 people in Harbin suffer from various ophthalmic diseases. Among them, more than 3,000 patients need to do a cornea transplant operation.

"What we are lacking is not technology but the cornea," said Liu Ping, a member of CPPCC and ophthalmologist of the hospital.

"We now have no storage of cornea at all," said Liu, who is also the director of the eye bank of Heilongjiang Province.

To deal with the ever increasing number of eye diseases, the eye bank was set up five years ago to accept cornea donations from local citizens.

So far, more than 1,000 local citizens have signed agreements with the bank to donate their corneas after their death, said Liu.

"But we can only get corneas from a small proportion of them ," said Liu.

"On the one hand, most of the potential donors are still alive; on the other hand, these agreements are usually entrusted by a relative of the donors. If the relative did not inform us his or her death, we would not know of it," said Liu.

"Even if we know, we may not get the cornea as long as the relatives insist on keeping the body intact after the death.

"These agreements do not have legal effect and are more like promises.

"We can do nothing if they break the promises," Liu said.

The bank has just received its first cornea donation from an agreement signer -- Yan Ahong, a female journalist who died of cancer.

Her donation has helped two patients regain their eyesight.

Inspired by Yan, tens of people from all walks of life, such as taxi drivers, college students and teachers, have consulted with the bank and expressed their willingness to donate their corneas.

For example, 41-year-old Wang Lijuan, a born poliomyelitis sufferer, decided to make the donation after her death.

Cornea transplants do not cost much and more than 90 per cent are successful, said Liu.

Less than 100 cornea transplants are done in Harbin annually.

More than 50 patients are now waiting for cornea transplants in Liu's hospital.

Some have waited for more than two years and missed the ideal time for a transplant, said Liu.

He made the suggestion to enact certain local regulations on the donation of corneas to ensure the bank could get them after the donors' death.

He said organ donations are common and protected by corresponding laws in most developed countries.

The hospital can legally take the organs to save others legally if he or she had signed certain permissions.

In some states of the United States, people have to sign a contract to agree to donate their organs after their death if they want to get their driving licences.

"But traditional Chinese believe that the body of the deceased should be kept intact to ensure the soul rests peacefully," Liu said.

"Thus the relatives would disobey the wish of the deceased and not to donate the organs."

Liu said eye banks in Shenzhen have made contacts with local hospitals.

When a person is on the edge of death, people from the bank try to persuade him or her to make the donation after his or her death.

"I hope certain regulations will be formulated to protect the legal donations," he said.

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