Organ donation is a way to share life

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Organ donation is a way to share life

Sometimes, one gets involved in unexpected situations. For me, writing about the organ donation pledge is one of them. Frankly, I had given little thought to the issue until last week, when my former boss, National Assembly Vice Speaker Park Byeong-seok, asked me to appear on a television program to encourage organ donation. While the guests were discussing the topic, I had to remain quiet because I couldn’t talk about something I didn’t know. Then I was given the mission to advocate for an organ donation drive in my column.

I thought organ donors were extraordinarily good people in special circumstances. But organ donation is often linked to shady and gloomy subjects such as organ trafficking, overseas transplants and forced donations. We have seen advertisements to sell and buy organs at public restrooms and heard the heinous news about a Syrian refugee who got sick after selling his organ in Lebanon and a young Chinese girl who had her eyes removed.

These crimes happen because so many patients are waiting for transplants while donated organs are scarce. Every year, more than 20,000 Korean patients need organ transplants, and more than 1,000 die while waiting for them. As a donation culture has not taken root, only about 7 percent of people in Korea arrange to donate their organs after death, while 25 percent to 36 percent do so in the United States and Spain.

While collecting stories for the column, I learned that former professional wrestler Lee Wang-pyo pledged to donate his organs before getting surgery for bile tract cancer. He wants to give his eyes to comedian Lee Dong-woo, who’s suffering from retinitis pigmentosa. When I was young, professional wrestling was a very popular sport, and I remember Lee Wang-pyo’s heyday. He was an aggressive wrestler who would commit fouls inside and outside of the ring. But as he was getting ready for the surgery that he wasn’t sure he would survive, he was thinking about the lives of others. People are truly beautiful.

I may have been forced to write this column, but I found unexpected new hopes. A considerable number of average people quietly sign organ donation pledges. The Life Share Association, organized by Buddhists, has almost met its goal of getting 5,000 organ donation pledges this year. Signing the pledge does not mean you will donate your organs upon death. It is more of an awareness campaign to spread the idea of donating organs and reducing repulsion, so actual donations would increase. Christmas is approaching in a month. It’s the season to think about our neighbors and good deeds. I am happy to learn that we can share not just material things, but also life.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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