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Critical Shortage of Organs: Why do Blacks Fear Donation?

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African-Americans account for 12% of the U.S. population and 35% of the patients awaiting kidney transplants. Believe it or not, many African-Americans have never thought about donating their organs, even though there is a critical shortage.

More than 80,000 men, women and children are waiting for a life-saving transplant. On top of that, every 13 minutes another name is added to the waiting list. What’s more disturbing is that an average of 17 people die each day because there are not enough organs.

The National Medical Association (NMA) in a collaborative effort with African-American physicians, businesses, churches and other social groups like Donate Life is turning up the heat on persuading African-Americans to become organ and tissue donors.

There is a lot of confusion in the Black community about organ donation. The dilemma was played out in the film John Q. Denzel Washington plays a working-class dad who holds a hospital emergency room at gunpoint to get a heart transplant for his nine year old son. The film’s critique of health care in America is hard to miss: The poor lack the funds and often the insurance coverage needed for organ transplants.

Compounding the problem is the murky theme of race and the unsettling debate on who lives and who dies? The surgeon, hospital officials, and happy heart recipients depicted in John Q. are all White; the hero and his family, denied the benefits of transplantation, are Black.

The NMA says Blacks and other minorities in this country display marked suspicion toward organ transplantation, and not just for the economic reasons John Q. encounters.

Most resistance to transplantation stems from four factors: Religion - African-American Christians generally believe that the body should remain whole after death; Witchcraft and the shunning of ancient taboos once widely practiced in Africa; Mistrust of the medical profession and Ignorance. As more Blacks become educated about transplantation, more are willing to consider donation.

Clive O. Callender MD, (we grew up together in New York) one of a small number of Black transplant surgeons in the United States and director of the Transplant Center at Howard University Hospital, has been working for decades to overcome reluctance on the part of Blacks to donate and receive organs.

He says, “the race to obtain organs in the U.S. is becoming increasingly competitive with legislation for outright selling and buying on the horizon. The Coalition on Donation, a non-profit organization, says getting the facts out is vital. Anyone can be a donor regardless of age, race, or medical history. Most religions support organ and tissue donation. If you have not marked it on your license or signed a donor card before death, donation can only be considered after you are deceased and with your family’s permission.

Inform your family of your wishes to donate your organs. An open casket funeral is possible for donors. The body is treated with care, respect and dignity. There is no cost to the family for organ or tissue donation.

African Americans are at high risk for many illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease that can lead to the need for an organ transplant. You can protect your health and prevent the future need for a transplant. Still for thousands transplantation is a matter of life and death. For more information call 1-866-LETS-GIVE or visit Donate Life at www.shareyourlife.org.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502. For more information about your Black health visit African American Health Network at www.aahn.com.

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