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Organ donation gaining wide acceptance among Saudis

Families are increasingly embracing the concept of organ transplants by overcoming cultural and religious concerns as Saudi Arabia expands its program to reduce the wait for patients in desperate need of organs.
Dr. Faisal Shaheen, director general of the Saudi Center for Organ Transplantation (SCOT), said transplant operations have increased with 92 percent of the families of brain dead patients consenting to donation when they know that it was the choice of the deceased.
About 40 percent of families give their consent if have they have no knowledge of the patient’s opinion on organ donation.
“There’s a clear increase in the number of cases where organs were removed for transplant,” Shaheen said, adding that awards granted to Saudi and non-Saudi donors are almost the same.
According to Shaheen, 527 kidney transplant operations were performed from 2003 to 2007, which increased to 673 (total from 2003 to 2012) in 2012. Liver transplants numbered 175 between 2003 and 2007, and increased to 271 in 2012. Heart transplants that numbered only 42 between 2003 and 2007 increased to 94 during the last five years. Only eight pancreas transplants were performed.
Shaheen said 37 percent more brain-death cases were reported to the center in the last five years. This demonstrates an improvement in doctors' awareness and the performance of hospitals’ intensive care units responsible for reporting potential cases to the center.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Saegh, internal medicine consultant at a dialysis center, said he believed society members’ awareness regarding organ donation has improved.
“However, officials have some concerns regarding the issue of organ trafficking,” Al-Saegh said. “Organ donation has to be expanded under the supervision and control of a specialist body that organizes and coordinates donations and operations in a way that guarantees commercialization does not get involved.”
Al-Saegh stressed the importance of promoting controlled organ donation and transplantation. He said it starts with domestic scientific research and “not merely relying on the results of similar operations abroad before implementing them here.”
He also emphasized the importance of religious scholars’ role in disseminating awareness of organ donations of brain-dead patients. There is a gap between the number of those who need transplants and that of available organs, he said.
Shaheen agreed. He said the issue is one where religious, moral and social values overlap. The difficulties that face organ transplantation are from people refusing the principle because of social conventions or because they do not have the correct information about brain death.
However, Shaheen said it is important to clarify that Islam permits and encourages organ donation for the sake of saving the lives of those in need. He added that there are clear fatwas permitting it from the Board of Senior Scholars and from the Islamic Fiqh Academy. In terms of the moral aspect of the issue, the center applies clear procedures that guarantee non-commercialization and preserve the rights of donors and recipients, he said.
“For the donation of living relatives, medical committees are present in every hospital to examine a donor’s compatibility and make sure that the donation of one kidney or part of the liver would not affect the donor’s health,” Shaheen said.
For brain-dead organ donation, there are brain death pronouncement forms that must be signed by two consultants under the supervision of a SCOT team that ensure that all protocol procedures were followed. The deceased is transferred to the operation room for organ removal as soon as the family’s consent is obtained.
Shaheen said the Kingdom follows the World Health Organization’s criteria stipulating that donating organs and tissues have to be performed within moral restrictions and medical standards that is based on providing better health care for patients and preserving the rights of donors. The decision to donate organs while alive must be voluntary and requires ensuring the person was not pressured in any way.
Donation of organs after death requires ensuring that the deceased indicated when alive that he wanted to do it or was not opposed to it — with the family’s consent and as per the laws regulating organ donations in the country. For all countries there are clear medical measures for approving a donor and removing and distributing the organs.
Facebook has launched a new tool it called Organ Donor to encourage 900 million users to help and save the lives of patients all over the world through organ donation. The site’s founder and executive director said the tool is aimed at spreading awareness, adding that thousands die around the world every year because of the lack of organ donors.
“A donor, alive or dead, is honored by being granted King Abdul Aziz Medal in addition to a financial award. A donor is also granted permanent discount on Saudi Arabian Airlines flight tickets and a free periodic medical follow up at the facility where the donation took place.
Organ transplant started in the Kingdom with the Board of Senior Scholars’ approval in 1981. Crown Prince Salman established a center to coordinate organ donation two years later.

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