ORGAN DONATION: Impeded by Asian Immigrants’ Taboos
Activists in Orange County are working to overcome long-held "cultural and religious taboos" that prevent Asian families from consenting to donate deceased family members' organs. Dr. David Imagawa, chief of transplantation at the University of California-Irvine Medical Center, said, "Asians here have a donation rate of 25%," compared with an overall rate in Orange County of about 50%, and as much as 60% in some other areas of the country. Imagawa, who is also president of Asian Transplantation Awareness for Southern California, said, "We've also got to break down myths among the general population. There are lots of them: You can't have an open-casket funeral, that we're withholding medical treatment, that the organs are being sold in Los Angeles." He explained that "resistance to organ donation is particularly strong among immigrants," adding that some "Buddhists believe that people must be buried with all their organs for the afterlife." He said, "Minorities always tend to donate less, but [25% is] far too low" (Kowalczyk, Orange County Register, 4/18).
Not Bad Overall
In related news, the number of U.S. organ donors increased 5.6% last year -- "the first substantial increase in three years" -- thanks to the work of transplant coordinators and recruitment efforts among the elderly. The increase resulted in 600 more transplants last year than in 1997, according to a report from the United Network for Organ Sharing. Released Friday by HHS, the new figures show that while donations grew 6.6% among whites and 7.8% among Hispanics, donations by African Americans remained flat and donations by Asians decreased 8.4%. The Michigan-Indiana-Ohio donation region saw the largest increase, at 13%. The most dramatic increase in organ donations was among people age 60 and older, up 10.8%. The AP/New York Times reports that "[o]lder patients have traditionally been passed over by organ banks and hospitals because their hearts, kidneys and livers tend to be less healthy than organs from younger patients." However, an increased need for organs and improved organ transplant methods have fueled outreach to the elderly. HHS also "credited a new federal rule that requires hospitals to report all deaths to the organ banks that are responsible for approaching families about donation" (4/18).
A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial argues "the challenge is how to boost participation in organ donation and get people talking about the choice before a tragedy occurs." Noting that a proposed pilot program in Pennsylvania would "offer $300 toward burial expenses for an organ donor," the paper writes that "[w]hile many groups, including this Editorial Board, are skeptical, the pilot deserves a try." However, the Inquirer says that a recent proposal to offer $10,000 life insurance policies to donors "comes unacceptably close to the buying and selling of organs." Arguing that "organ donation is based on trust," and that any doubts about a program's fairness can turn an entire community away, the Inquirer suggests that a long-held and sometimes well-founded distrust of the medical establishment by African Americans contributes to that group's lower-than-average donation rate (4/18).