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Expert: public still in the dark over brain death
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A boy opens his eyes for the first time after a successful cornea transplant in Xingtai, Hebei province.[Photo:Chinadaily.com.cn]

The public should be better educated on the definition of brain death in a bid to ease the nation's shortage of organ donors, said Chen Zhonghua, a professor at Tongji Medical College in Wuhan, Hubei province.

The Ministry of Health released guidelines for the clinical procedures and practice surrounding brain dead patients in 2003 but the public still remains largely unaware, he said.

As many as 300 people were declared brain dead by medics last year. Only organs from 70 of them were used to help those awaiting transplants, official statistics show.

Ministry rules define death in two ways: cardiac death, when the heart stops beating, and brain death, when the brain-stem shows no reflexes and the patient has no ability to breath unaided.

"Many people in China recognize only the former, mainly because they don't know about brain death," said Chen.

The key to widening the implementation of China's brain death rules lies in raising public awareness, he said, adding that a website jointly launched by the college and society to attract donors for the nation's new post-death transplant network has already signed up 15,000 willing candidates.

But Chen rejected calls from his fellow medical professionals for the ministry to write fresh legislation on brain death.

"The definition of death is an issue for medical science, not law," he said. "There is no legislation on cardiac death, why do we need it on brain death ?"

(China Daily September 17, 2009)


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