At any given time in South Africa, according to Wits health communication specialist Harriet Etheredge, there are 4 300 people waiting for organ donations. Yet, organ donors are in short supply.
She says that’s because of religious beliefs and family reticence to see parts of the body of their kin passed on to someone. There is also some mistrust of the “biomedical” system in this country, some of which is justified.
Etheredge cites the 2001 “Kidneygate” scandal, when Brazilian donors were flown to South Africa and paid for their organs, which were transplanted into ailing rich Israelis.
Education is needed about the immense social benefits of organ donation to dispel some of the myths and taboos.
But, at the same time, attention needs to be paid to the legal situation where, even if a person has officially consented to donate their organs after death, a family still has the right of veto over that decision.
One avenue to explore is the policy implemented in Spain, where it is assumed that a person consents to organ donation after death unless they have written a statement to the contrary.
There is no greater gift one can give than that of life itself.