Across China: More body, organ donors give gifts of life
HEFEI, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Thirty-seven elderly have registered to become body donors in a small community in east China's Anhui Province since 2002, making local news headlines.
In doing so, the donors acted against traditional Chinese cultural beliefs about death and the preservation of dead bodies, as a popular saying goes that "our bodies, down to every hair and shred of skin, are received from our parents. We must not presume to injure or to wound them. This is the beginning of filial piety."
The trend started with Wu Lang who died of gastric cancer in 2002 at the age of 82 in Hefei, the capital of Anhui. His body was donated to Anhui Medical University for research and educational purposes, as he had wished.
"We first heard about body donation for scientific purposes from doctors when my husband was hospitalized," said Wu's widow, 90-year-old Ma Yixing. "He expressed his desire to donate his body when he was healthy because he believed that body donation was a gift of life."
Before retirement, Wu was the head of the post and telecommunications administration of Anhui Province. "He had received a good education, so he easily accepted the idea of body donation," Ma added.
Word about Wu's decision quickly spread across the community he lived in, which helped raise awareness about body and organ donation, especially among those who used to work and live with him.
A number of people were inspired to register to donate their remains or organs in the following decade, including 83-year-old Wu Rongkun, who signed up in 2006.
"Wu was the first body donor of our community, and he set a good example for me," said Wu Rongkun.
"My wife used to be a doctor, so she has given her full support, knowing the significance of the act to science," Wu Rongkun said.
In 2011, Wu's wife also volunteered to donate her body, and the couple set up a group, trying to raise public awareness about body and organ donation, together with their friends and schoolmates.
Two years later, the Red Cross Loving Heart Society under the local Red Cross Society had grown into a group of 15, and Wu Rongkun took charge of the group.
"Previously, traditional beliefs had held people back from donating their bodies or organs, as death and body donation were always considered taboo subjects, while nowadays, the idea has been increasingly accepted," said Wu Rongkun.
In 2009, Chen Qingxiu, who signed up via Wu's group, made the decision after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
But his two daughters initially opposed the move and refused to sign their names on the consent form.
Chen's wife Zhu Xiufang said the pair ultimately came round to the idea, bolstered by the belief that their parents' corneas could restore the eyesight of a lucky recipient, and their bodies could help in medical research.
Chen's body was donated to Anhui Medical University after he passed away at the age of 73 in 2013.
Spreading through word of mouth and media reports, the Red Cross Loving Heart Society has become increasingly recognized in Hefei, and more people are turning to it to acquire more knowledge before they make the final decision to donate their organs and bodies.
So far, 37 people have donated their bodies or organs through Wu Rongkun's group. Among the donors, the oldest is 92 and the youngest 52.
Around 12,000 people in the province have volunteered to pledge their bodies after death, and about 1,200 donations were made as of July 2021, said Fu Jie, an official with the body (organ) donation center of the provincial Red Cross society.
China started piloting its organ donation program in 2010. The number of registered organ donors in China has exceeded 2.5 million, according to the latest statistics from the Red Cross Society of China released in 2020. Enditem