Organ donations take family toll

As in many countries, when a loved one suddenly dies in Taiwan, some families choose to donate the deceased person’s organs for transplant. Interviewed 6 months later, however, family members frequently report that the donation led to negative consequences related to their culture and religion, according to a report in the January/February Psychosomatic Medicine. Nevertheless, they still regard their decision as correct.

Taiwanese people in this position often report family worries about the quality of a donor’s afterlife because of body disfiguration, says a team led by surgeon Shu-Hsun Chu of National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei. Many also describe stress due to family disagreements over the organ donation and criticism of acceptance of hospital money to help defray funeral costs.

Members of Buddhist families, who believe that good deeds in the mortal world increase status in the eternal world, more often cited greater appreciation of life and other positive results of their donation decision. Family members who heeded the Confucian doctrine of the body as a gift from one’s parents that shouldn’t be damaged reported lingering confusion over the merits of organ donation.

The researchers studied 22 spouses, parents, or siblings–14 of whom were Buddhist–who had signed the consent forms for their family member’s organ donation. A majority of the deceased were men, 20 to 40 years old, who had died in car or motorcycle accidents.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.