Fear of the unknown prevents people from giving gift of life

The writer Antonis Samarakis, who died last month, willed his remains to the Athens University medical school. The news of his decision drew attention to what is a major issue in Greece, where only in recent years has there been any increase in the number of people willing to donate their organs. At the moment about 80,000 people are registered as potential organ donors, over half of them (47,367) women. Most are aged 36-50, although there are a considerable number in the 51-70 age group. According to Ioannis Vlachoyiannis, president of the National Transplant Organization, in the last three years 223 organ transplants have been carried out in Greece, up from only 77 in 2000, 30 in 2001 and 76 in 2002, but still very low compared to international averages. Still, this year there has been a 15 percent increase in the number of kidney transplants. Greece also has one of the highest percentages of living donors in the European Union, with 20 kidney donors per million population, just behind Spain, Austria and Portugal. «We are just getting organized with regard to reception centers for potential donors. We are expecting Parliament to vote for the establishment of branches of the National Transplant Organization so that the network can spread out to reach a wider sector of the population,» Vlachoyiannis told Kathimerini. According to some experts, there are two main reasons why people are unwilling to become organ donors: the fear of the unknown, combined with various prejudices regarding death itself, and a lack of knowledge about what transplants actually involve. Meanwhile, much of what is known is based on myth. A national register of donors that is strictly and publicly monitored would do much to dispel these fears. Spain’s example In Spain, where the number of transplants has been steadily growing in recent years due to a radical review of the transplant program, a determining factor has been the role of local coordinators in hospitals with intensive care units (ICU). As long as there is the slightest hope that a patient might survive, no organs are removed. When the doctor in charge declares a patient dead, the death certificate is made out in conjunction with an anaesthesiologist and a neurologist. The doctor in charge then immediately informs the National Transplant Organization, whose officials contact the deceased’s family. Declarations of intent to donate organs can be made at health services, at hospitals’ social services, blood banks, medical centers and other welfare agencies. Otherwise the declaration can be made with the National Register of Organ Donors; declarations can also be made in the national census. Organ donor cards issued on submission of the declarations should always be carried as the best indication of the bearer’s intention. If at any time a person changes his or her mind, the only action needed is to inform the National Transplant Organization. «Donating an organ from someone who no longer needs it is the gift of life and symbolizes the foundation of a society characterized by solidarity and higher cultural values. An increased supply (of organs) increases hope and security, since any of us could one day be in a position of need,» according to the National Transplant Organization.