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Donating Bodies for a Better Society
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He is called Grandpa Yin Ming by his Nanjing neighborhood, and at 83 years old, he still spends his days making house calls and organizing events in his community in the capital of Jiangsu, one of the wealthiest and ageing province in China.


Yin is one of the many in the city who wishes to donate his last and most precious possession after death his own body to medical research.


Yin is a part of the Volunteers Association for Reliquiae Donation, a 10-year-old group affiliated with the Nanjing Red Cross.


In 1996, a group of retired residents gathered for an ordinary after-meal chatting session. One man said he read that China's progress in medical science was suffering, and lagging behind that of developed countries, because there was a corpse resource shortage.


Meanwhile, more than 40,000 corpses are buried or cremated everyday. Because so few people are willing to donate their corneas, millions of the country's visually impaired people usually have no hope for retaining their ability to detect light.


This group delivered a public announcement to the local newspaper the next day, declaring their resolution of reliquiae donation and calling on more people to join them in their cause.


Their decision was warmly welcomed from the society, as 500 volunteers joined them within three months.


Among them, two were members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 150 are intellectuals and retired workers, and there are 80 couples. Their age span ranged from 20 to 87 at that time.


A decade later, the team has greatly expanded. More than 4,000 people have joined the group during those 10 years and 310 of them have had their bodies donated after death.


Unlike practices adopted by their counterparts in other cities, corpse donors in Nanjing are told on the first day that they will receive no compensation in return. It is reported that their counterparts in other cities can enjoy a certain amount of allowance and also free medical check-ups.


"Attention from the whole society is certainly good. But even though we cannot enjoy those privileges, we work with equal enthusiasm," said Yin, who joined the association since its establishment and is now secretary of the association.


Leaders with the China Red Cross Association praised Nanjing Voluntary Reliquiae Donation Association as the best-performing one among similar associations across the country in 2000.


To date, Nanjing Medical College and Nanjing Railway Medical College are the two institutes that receive the donations.


The medical students come to visit the elderly volunteers several times a year, chatting with them and checking in on their health.


"I am really moved by their decisions, which have enormously benefited the society," said Wang Jun, a senior medical student in Nanjing Medical College.


According to Liu Xia, vice-president of the Nanjing Branch of the Red Cross Association, hundreds of people have received organ transplants from them.


But problems still exist as the work goes on, said Liu.


Hurdles of family


The road to the association's mission is far from smooth, and misunderstanding comes from everywhere, including the volunteers' own children.


The Nanjing Red Cross Branch requires consent from the volunteers' relatives to make every offer of donation valid.


"My daughter wouldn't sign her name on my resolution paper for my body donation, as she was afraid of people scolding her of being not filial," said Yin.


It is a traditional virtue in China that the descendents hold a grand funeral ceremony for their decreased relatives.


It took the elderly man several days to persuade his daughter.


"To obey your father's wishes and let him contribute his last possession to society is the best thing you can do to me," Yin told her.


Yin fought in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945) and risked his life several times on the battlefields.


"I don't fear death at all. What's most important is that you should die for the benefit of the society," said Yin.


Eventually, Yin's daughter agreed. And moved by her father's spirit, she and her husband also decided to donate their corpses to medical institutes.


It was reported that in Shanghai people who decided to donate their own bodies do not need to obtain approval from their family members. But Nanjing still holds that the approval from family members are necessary.


"To avoid future dispute, approvals from family members are very necessary," said Liu Xia.


In addition to the children's incorporation, more obstacles come when the group goes to an unfamiliar community to rally more volunteers.


"People just feel so queer that some strangers talked with them about corpse donation. And sometimes the children may scold us severely and drive us away," said Yin.


But Yin said that he was moved there were so many people who decided from the bottom of their hearts to contribute themselves.


Xie Qiuping, 92, come back in 2005 from the United States where his daughter lived, just to realize his wish of the final donation.


Shortage of funds


A lack of funding is still a big problem for the group. Currently, the association has a 40,000 yuan (US$5,000) for operating every year, 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) from each of the two medical colleges, and 20,000 yuan (US$25,000) from Nanjing municipal government.


"That is far from enough. We donated money to maintain the running of the association," Yin said, saying he personally donated 30,000 yuan (US$3,750) over the years.


Financial donations from the private sectors and mainly those from the group's members are the main resources for the association.


The money is mainly for helping low-income donors arrange activities and hold lectures on health for the public.


Regulating the pro-donation process has also been the group's concern.


In 2000, an organ exhibition was held in Japan, and it was said to have purchased corpses and organs from medical colleges in Nanjing to furnish the display.


Though there was no repercussion for the incident, several donors were provoked and they asked to withdraw their decision of donation.


"The corpse cannot enjoy dignity after being donated and they are used for commercial ends. We cannot accept this," said a donor, surnamed Huang.


The Ministry of Health has recently ruled that any sale of human organs are strictly prohibited in the country.


"So, we hope the country will pay more attention to this kind of regulation, protecting the motivation of our donors and let the whole society benefit from our donations," said Yin.


(China Daily April 8, 2006)

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