Many Hispanics remain cool to organ donation

SAN ANTONIO, Texas Sun Mar 27, 2011 6:33pm EDT

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - When Norma Garcia's 13-year-old daughter was killed in a car wreck, she had no idea that in the midst of her grief she was about to plunge into a controversy that would test her cultural identity and Christian faith.

After Jasmine Garcia was declared brain dead following the 2001 accident, doctors at San Antonio's University Hospital asked her mother if she would be willing to donate her daughter's organs.

"The majority of my family had a belief that, 'How could you do that? How could you allow her to be mutilated? How could you let them take her heart out?'" recalled Garcia, a San Antonio real estate agent. "My parents are from Mexico, and they had the feeling that, 'She is your daughter. Why would you allow them to do this to her?"

Garcia ultimately made an organ donation of Jasmine's heart and liver, a decision that left her estranged from several relatives for some time, she recalled.

Her experience highlights a cultural divide that organ donation advocates say is threatening the ability of surgeons to save lives through organ transplants, especially as new census figures show the nation's Hispanic population surging.

Hispanics -- especially first- and second-generation Mexican-Americans -- are less likely to donate organs than Americans as a whole, according to organ donation experts.

"We find that the Hispanic community tells us, 'My religion says not to donate,' and 'I can't have an open casket because the body will be damaged,'" said Esmeralda Perez of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. "They feel that their loved one will be disfigured, or the person will not be able to get into heaven because their body will not be whole."

In South Texas along the Rio Grande from Brownsville to Laredo, where Latinos make up the vast majority of 1.4 million residents -- many of them first-generation Mexican-Americans -- organs from just 19 individuals were donated in 2010, according to the alliance. The overall U.S. average is about 26 organ donors per million, Perez said.

Thirty-one percent of organ donors across Texas in 2010 were Hispanic, while new census figures show that 42 percent of the state's population is Latino.

Latinos' reticence about organ donation centers on religion, said Nuvia Enriquez, Hispanic outreach coordinator for the Donor Network of Arizona.

"A lot of work that we do is to go out and try to dissolve some of these myths," she said. "We talk to them about the Catholic Church's position on donation, which is very positive. Pope John Paul II was actually the first pope to declare donation to be an act of love, and Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal, was a card-carrying organ donor."

The Rev. John Leies, a prominent Catholic theologian and former president of St. Mary's University in San Antonio, said the church is working to convince the faithful that organ donation does not render the body unfit for the afterlife.

"The church is well aware that there are so may people waiting for organs, and there are not enough to be supplied and people die without receiving their organs," he said. "It is difficult to fight against these cultural ideas, and maybe the church hasn't made a good enough effort."

Perez said that 45 percent of patients on the national waiting list to receive organs are Hispanic.

Garcia said her relatives, who once so strongly criticized her decision to donate Jasmine's organs, have since become big supporters of organ donation.

"After we all got more educated, and the family started attending these events where donors' families meet organ recipients, and seeing how much of a difference this has made in the lives of others and the good they could do for all these people, and how this was keeping Jasmine's memory alive, I think they realized it was the right decision," she said.

(Edited by Corrie MacLaggan and Steve Gorman)

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Comments (1)
LIFESHARERS wrote:
If more people were as generous as Jasmine Garcia, we wouldn’t have over 50% of Americans waiting for organ transplants dying each year. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year. There are now over 110,000 people on the National Transplant Waiting List.

There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage – give donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren’t willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at www.lifesharers.org or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 14,500 members, including 1175 members in Texas.

Please contact Dave Undis, Executive Director of LifeSharers, if your readers would like to learn more about our innovative approach to increasing the number of organ donors. He can arrange interviews with some of our local members if you’re interested. His email address is daveundis@lifesharers.org. His phone number is 615-351-8622.

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Mar 28, 2011 2:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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