Updating a law to save lives

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Updating a law to save lives

By donating an organ, you are actually saving a life. A 6-year-old named Cho Eun-seo, who lived her whole, short life struggling to digest simple foods due to chronic bowel obstruction, received an unprecedented seven-organ transplant last year and is recovering well. Before Cho was four years old, she had to undergo surgery to restore her twisted stomach back to its original state. Her intestines didn’t function properly, and she could only rely on injections for nutrients. Such injections damaged her blood vessels as well as her liver.

The new organs - a liver, pancreas, small intestine, stomach, duodenum, large intestine and spleen donated by a brain-dead patient of around Cho’s age - saved the little girl’s life. The surgery went on for nine hours. The donor family who made the bold decision with their child and the astonishing courage and skills of the Korean surgeons brought a miracle to Eun-seo and her family.

But strictly speaking, the success story should be hushed because the operation itself is against the law. The whitelist of transplantable organs is short - only livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs, small intestines, pancreata, bone marrow and corneas. Three of the organs Eun-seo received - the duodenum, large intestine and spleen - are not legally licensed for transplant. Authorities have restricted the types of transplantable organs to those in greatest demand in medical fields in order to minimize supposed “damage” to the bodies of the dead.

Transplant demand is on the rise thanks to the development of drugs allowing greater match and recipient safety and advanced technology in surgery, storage and delivery. Local surgeons also have built up experience in transplant operations. Worldwide, more organs and tissues have become transplantable.

The law must keep up with the changing time and advancing technologies. We cannot let outdated laws stall the charitable campaign of sharing lives and developing medical technology. As of the end of December 2011, there are 28,399 recipients waiting on the list for organ transplants. The law must assist to deliver donated organs effectively to save as many lives as possible. The Ministry of Health and Welfare’s organ transplant steering committee must review expanding their criteria of transplantable organs. Authorities and the National Assembly should then revise the transplant law to lift restrictions in transplants within ethical boundaries. We must hear more of success stories like that of Eun-seo’s.

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