Students tackle organ transplant question

Human organ transplant

Would you donate your organs? Should you be able to choose where they go after you die? These tough questions and others were discussed at a talk given earlier this month by BC Transplant at SFU, coordinated by the SFU Health Ethics Club.

Held in Blusson Hall on Burnaby campus, the event featured speakers that brought up the benefits and also the issues and concerns around organ transplantation.

One of the biggest logistical issues facing organ transplantation is the limited supply of donor organs. Longer life spans and lower accidental death rates mean that, as the population ages, the need for organs may far outstrip supply in the coming years.

In its most recent general report, the Canadian Organ Replacement Register states that there were just over 3,400 patients on the kidney transplant waiting list in 2012.

BC residents can register on the BC transplant website to opt to donate their organs when they die. The organ donor registration form includes options to allow only certain organs to be used, as well as an option to opt out of donation altogether. Currently, the most commonly transplanted organ is the kidney, and it is consequently the organ in highest demand.t

Along with the process of organ donation, BC transplant coordinators explained the complications that surround transplantation. The buying and selling of organs on the black market creates an environment where those of lower income may put themselves into dangerous situations in order to make money.

Perhaps an issue closer to home is the decision on how to rank potential organ recipients on the waiting list. In recent news, a 45-year-old mother of two and patient at Vancouver General Hospital, Alice Zhang, was removed from the kidney transplant waitlist after having reportedly exhibited signs of mental illness. Zhang contended that she was removed because of complaints she made regarding her treament in the hemodialysis unit. As of time of press, Zhang is set to appeal the psychiatrist’s decision at a review board.

Speakers also discussed the controversy durrounding the process of organ donation. In England as recently as the mid-1800s, it was regarded as blasphemous to mutilate a dead body.

However, advancements in modern medicine have shown that for those with end-stage organ failure, organ transplant is often the best option.

Responding to the concern that BC transplant staff would deny patients life-saving care in order to use their organs, Jennifer Payandeh, vice-president of the Health Ethics Club explained that, “The staff from BC transplant are not even involved until two doctors have declared that a patient has succumbed to brain death.” The separation of the health care staff and transplant staff protects the interests of the potential donor.

Payandeh ended the discussion by mentioning that the subject of health ethics is far reaching, and will likely affect everyone at some point in their life: “Being informed will help you make better decisions about your own health care.”