The Cardinal Kim effect

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The Cardinal Kim effect

Following the example set by the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, who donated his corneas after he passed away in February, interest in organ donation in Korean society has increased dramatically.

As of the end of April, corneas, kidneys, lungs and other organs from 97 brain-dead people have been donated. That figure is likely to overtake last year’s record of 256 organ donations, the most donations in Korean history.

Last year, 174 people were the recipients of cornea transplants, but by the end of April this year 119 people had already regained vision, which means the number can only increase through the rest of the year.

It is in this atmosphere of growing support for organ donation that the government plans to revise related rules and regulations to simplify the complicated procedures that have previously prevented the increase in the number of donations. We welcome the government’s decision because it will enhance public awareness about organ donation and ensure that more people can donate and receive organs.

The basic aim of the existing organ donation law, enacted 10 years ago, put more weight on preventing rampant declarations of brain death and putting an end to the underground organ trade. Critics have long voiced concern that the law severely discourages organ donation.

Under the current law, at least two family members need to approve an organ donation for a brain-dead patient who has not consented to have his or her organs donated. The government plans to lower that requirement to one.

The current law also requires families to approve organ donations for brain-dead patients who expressed their desire to become organ donors before falling ill. The government will scrap that requirement entirely.

This is a notable change, though it still lags far behind what other nations have done. In Spain, for example, consent to organ donation is assumed for brain-dead patients unless they have given a sign to the contrary before they die.

It is necessary to discuss potentially controversial regulations thoroughly. But the revision process should not damage the original aim of getting rid of stumbling blocks while accommodating conventional wisdom on the matter.

Above all, efforts to maintain this unprecedented environment, in which organ donation is viewed in a favorable light, should continue.
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