Malaysia is in dire need of donors for organ transplant: pledging your organs for use after death can relieve the problem of insufficient donors which has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Dr. Hasdy Haron, Senior Clinical Organ Donation Manager from the National Transplant Resource Centre at Hospital Kuala Lumpur, said the insufficient number of donors who have pledged their organs currently far exceeds supply – there are still over 10,455 patients on the organ transplant waiting list in Malaysia as of April 2022.
In contrast, only 69 transplants have been performed successfully this year.
There has been a total of 2,641 organ transplants performed since 1997 in Malaysia thanks to living and deceased donors. In Malaysia, a living donor is a healthy first or second degree adult relative: a first degree relative is a person’s parents, children, or biological siblings, while a second degree adult relative is a person’s grandparents, grandchildren, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, and half/adopted siblings.
However, children, mentally and/or physically unwell adults, and prisoners, are not allowed to become living donors.
In rare cases, a person may donate to a more distantly related relative or a non-family member, subject to evaluation and approval by an independent committee appointed by the Ministry of Health; a prisoner may also donate to a close relative who is in a life-threatening situation due to their organ failure.
On the other hand, deceased donors are those who had pledged to donate their organs upon their death while they were still alive. These donors would usually have experienced brain death, but the rest of their body is still functional, or kept going via artificial means, in order to harvest their organs for transplants. Such donors can give multiple recipients a renewed lease on life as they can potentially donate many organs, e.g., their heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, intestines, and kidneys, among others.
As most deceased, or cadaveric, donors in Malaysia pass on from road traffic accidents, their ability to donate their organs is also dependent on the condition their body is in at the time of brain death. Only organs that are intact and still functioning well will be transplanted into a recipient.
Donors can provide solid organs for transplant – solid organs are those that have a firm tissue consistency and are not hollow (e.g., the stomach and intestines) or fluid (e.g., blood). The organ donation procedure itself is free for the donor.
According to Dr. Hasdy, only a little more than half of those who pledge their organs are accepting towards organ donation. Unfortunately, there are still some myths surrounding organ donation: that the procedure will cause mutilation to the deceased’s body or delay burial rituals.
Rest assured, the medical team that performs the removal of organs from a braindead donor always does so in a very respectful manner, ensuring that there is no mutilation of the body. The procedure is also performed in a timely manner, so that the donor’s family will be able to take and prepare their loved one’s body for burial within the appropriate amount of time.
Organ donation and transplantation is accepted and allowed in all the religions practiced in a multicultural and multireligious nation like Malaysia. Even in Islam, the most widely practised religion in the country, organ donation and transplantation is considered “harus” (permissible), according to the National Fatwa in 1970.
It is vital that as a society, we make the culture of organ donation a norm in our communities. Choosing to be an organ donor costs you nothing and can be among the most charitable and meaningful acts of your life. So, do pledge your organs for donation, and do also let your family know that you wish to donate your organs after death as their permission is necessary before the medical team harvests your organs.
[Living donors are strictly forbidden from receiving any reward or compensation for their organ donation – whether in the direct form of cash or other inducements such as property, cars, shares, or career advancement, etc. Living donors do receive certain benefits from the Ministry of Health, including first class treatment in government hospitals, as well as free medical follow-ups related to their organ donation.]