November 2, 2022
MANILA – Thirty years have passed since the Organ Donation Act of 1991 was signed into law by then President Corazon Aquino, but it has yet to gain a foothold among Filipinos averse to the idea of allowing the removal of their deceased loved ones’ viable organs or tissues. Their reasons are few but often revolve around religion and culture.
They pray their sick, hospitalized relatives will miraculously get well so they hardly even consider organ donation. Many also find it off-putting when hospital staff broach the idea to them. Even when the patient has already signified prior intent to donate—by signing and keeping the organ donation card in their wallet or by checking the pertinent box on their driver’s license—it’s still a struggle to convince those they leave behind to honor the wishes of the deceased.
Dr. Romina Danguilan, chair of the department of adult nephrology at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Quezon City, has long been a huge proponent of organ donation in the country. While she partly agrees that religion holds many of us back from seeing how organ donation can help save many lives, she says lack of education on the topic is also a hindrance.
“A lot of people still have scant knowledge about organ donation,” Danguilan told Lifestyle in a phone interview. “We’ve done national surveys in the past and found out that there are really a lot of people still unaware of organ donation and its potential to help so many others. It has to be continuous education, exposure and awareness about organ donation.”
She pointed out that based on surveys conducted in hospitals, even some health-care workers are still not aware that transplants from deceased organ donors can be done.
“As Christians, we always hope for a miracle and that the patient will wake up. We hold on to that hope because of our religious upbringing. So sometimes, even when the patient is already brain dead (lack of brain activity), it’s very hard for the relatives to consider donating the organs, especially if they are not aware that the potential donor was willing to donate their organs,” Danguilan said.
It’s therefore important for those who carry the organ donor card to inform their family that they are organ donors so in case you get into a fatal accident that leaves you brain dead, “They won’t feel guilty about donating your organs.”
Unfortunately, this is hardly the case in the country as NKTI’s division chief of strategy management Nuel Polero II found out. Even before he joined the NKTI, he has long been a regular blood donor, but now he is also an advocate for organ donation.
“There are so many sick people so I often donate blood; it’s my way of helping,” he told Lifestyle in a phone interview. Aside from it being beneficial to one’s health, donating blood is also a moral obligation for him.
When it comes to approaching the family of deceased organ donors, they still have to deal with the grieving family. “Even if the immediate family is aware that their loved one had an organ donor card, the transplant coordinator still has to ask permission from them. That’s the reality here in the Philippines,” Polero said.
For public relations practitioner Ginggay de la Merced, the organ donation her father received years ago moved her to sign up to be an organ donor. “My dad was a kidney recipient from the Hope program of NKTI. I promised God I would return the favor if He could give this gift to my dad, and He did. So my passion grew from there,” she said.
Hope (Human Organ Preservation Effort) is an office at NKTI tasked to conduct regular advocacy campaigns for organ donation.
“They have a schedule and usually go to NKTI partner-hospitals to inform the health-care workers there. We update them on organ donation,” Danguilan said.
She also pointed out that once healthcare workers have secured a potential donor and informed them, only then do members of NKTI’s procurement team come in.
“They will be the ones to decide whether to take the organs or not. The health-care workers shouldn’t be the ones even considering whether this or that organ is viable because it wastes time and can be a hindrance,” she said.
Getting more people to consider organ donation is an uphill battle, but steps continue to be made. For example, you can download the I-Hope app on Google Play (soon on iOS) that will allow you to fill out the organ donor card electronically. You can then choose which of your organs you are willing to donate upon your death, including cornea, heart, lungs, kidney, liver, pancreas, intestines and bones.
While you can keep the filled out card in your phone, Danguilan suggests printing it out and keeping it in your wallet. “But always tell your loved ones that you are an organ donor and that you have an organ donation card in your wallet,” she reiterated. INQ