A matter of life and death

Easter is a fitting time to think of the sacrifices that others have made for us, to contemplate the kind of generosity that leaves us speechless and to reflect on what we can do in our own lives to emulate, even to the smallest degree, this behavior. It was very timely, therefore, that Oliver Zammit, the father of Australian youngster Doujon who was killed on Myconos last summer, should visit Greece just a few days before Orthodox Christians mark Christ’s crucifixion and celebrate his resurrection. Greece offered Oliver Zammit his son’s dead body following the beating he suffered at the hands of up to four people while on his summer vacation last year. In return, the 20-year-old’s father offered life to four Greeks. Despite the anguish of losing his son so suddenly and so needlessly, Zammit stuck to the commitment that Doujon and his family had made to donate their organs. In the process, he left the Greek public feeling something between awe and shame. Awe because he had shown incredible warmth and philanthropy to a people and a country that did not deserve it. Shame because his action reminded us how painfully rare organ donation is in Greece. In the most recent Europe Union-wide statistics compiled by the Council of Europe, Greece had 7.1 donors per million of the population, compared to an EU average of 17.8 and Spain’s exemplary 33.8. As Greece’s National Transplant Organization has told Athens Plus, Spain is leading the way not necessarily because people there are more willing to donate organs, but because authorities have made a huge effort to coordinate and organize the medical system so that opportunities to save people’s lives are not lost. When we consider our debt-ridden hospitals, with suppliers moving in to take back equipment that has not been paid for, and the culture among many patients and doctors of exchanging the infamous «fakelakia» (envelopes of cash) to get things done, moving closer to Spain’s rate of organ donation seems an unattainable dream. Seeing Greece lagging in yet another EU table is nothing new and before we can improve our donation rates, there seem to be a thousand other things to cross off our to-do list. But unlike so many of these other areas, organ donation is a matter of life and death. If we can make the effort to get things right, then people’s lives will be saved. No greater incentive than that is needed. Greece is by no means alone in failing to get its act together but that is no excuse. The examples to follow are there. Oliver Zammit and his family have shown us that there is no room for doubt, no use for half-measures and no gift that is greater. Last week, doctors at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens praised Zammit for helping increase by almost three times the number of transplants that have been conducted. However, Oliver Zammit also saw with his own eyes that 21 people at the Onassis Center are still waiting for donors – many of them have spent more than two years on a waiting list. The best way that we could repay the Zammits’ kindness would be to ensure that the four lives that were saved by their son’s organs were just the first of an ever-growing number.

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