SHANGHAI Red Cross officials have criticized a plan to ask driving license
applicants if they wish to donate their organs in the event of their death.
They said China, as it prepares to introduce a national organ donation scheme, should stop copying Western methods and be more sensitive to Chinese tradition and the feelings of its citizens.
Huang Jiefu, vice minister of health, has said that by the end of this year, people will be given the option of registering as organ donors when they apply for driving licences, as part of China's efforts to build a nationwide voluntary organ donation system and promote organ donation.
"The move is to streamline the donor registration system so as to expand the pool of organs available for transplant surgeries," Huang told the Legal Evening News, though nobody will be compelled to register as a potential donor.
But Shanghai Red Cross spokesman Yang Junyi said yesterday Chinese people have different concepts about organ donation than their counterparts in the West.
"Most Chinese would think it was a curse for them to fill out such a form while applying for driving license," he said.
He said the Red Cross had conducted research some years ago when they distributed hundreds of forms to local driving schools asking about organ donation.
"We only received two or three forms back, while most people scolded us for giving them such a form and considered it would be bad luck if they filled it in," he said. "It may take a long time for Chinese to accept such kind of donation format."
It is common practice in some countries, Huang said, to supply driving license applicants with the necessary paperwork for organ donation.
Huang said 80 percent of Australians register for organ donations when getting their licenses, and the rate is 45 percent in Britain.
"Everyone has the right to choose to donate organs or not. It's not dishonorable if you refuse to make the donation," he said.
A proper donation process and transparent policy was necessary to safeguard the interests and rights of organ donors, ensure the quality of organs, their just allocation and fair use, Huang added.
Huang also said that China is drafting rules to provide financial support to help with donor families' medical bills and children's schooling, and other subsidies for those in financial difficulties.
Shanghai's current law allows for bodies to be donated for medical research only and just corneas for transplants.
The law is expected to be amended this year to allow people to donate organs after death.
Yang said subsidies for donations could vary in different regions but the details hadn't been discussed in Shanghai.
"The State Council is expected to amend the implementary provision of an organ donation rule this year and the subsidies will be included into the provision," he said. "We will work out our subsidies in line with the national guidance."
China faces an acute shortage of organs with only around 10,000 patients out of 1.5 million receiving organ transplants each year, the health ministry said. Every year between 3,000 and 4,000 kidney transplant operations are carried out while around 1 million people are dependent on dialysis.
At the same time, a large number of organs are wasted due to the lack of a scientific organ donation system, medial experts said.
China in 2007 banned organ transplants from living donors, except spouses, blood relatives and step or adopted family members, but launched a national system to coordinate donations after death in 2009. The organ shortage has led to a trade in illegal organ trafficking.