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„They Are not less Important for Saving Human Lives“
Günter Kirste; © DSO
Günter Kirste is Medical Director of the German Organ Procurement Organisation (DSO). MEDICA.de talked to the physician about fears and emotions in connection to organ donation and how Germany could get more donor organs.
MEDICA.de: Mr. Kirste, the World Day of Organ Donation took place last weekend in Berlin. You took the opportunity to promote for more organ donations. How do you convince people to donate their organs?
Günter Kirste: Organ donation is a very sensitive topic surrounded by irrational fears. Therefore it is very important to inform people properly about the subject. Many people, for example, fear that in the case of an emergency physicians may not make use of all possible treatments as soon as they notice that the patient owns a organ donor pass. Therefore, we need to approach people on an emotional level, too by telling them true patient stories.
MEDICA.de: Can you give us an example?
Kirste: Emotions arise when people see a photo of a child with an artificial heart pushing the machine on a small trolley in front of it. In this moment, sympathy for the child increases to a level that is larger than one's own fear to donate organs. In such a situation people tend to more easily be persuaded to get a organ donor organ pass. However, it is important to always inform the population about this matter and raise awareness.
MEDICA.de: Two years ago, a show on Dutch television received a lot of attention. Three potential organ recipients "competed" for a kidney of a patient suffering from cancer.
Kirste: Such a show is ethical not at all acceptable. I already said that two years ago. It is important to raise the attention for organ donations in the public, but not in that way.
MEDICA.de: Does each organ donor really save a human life?
Kirste: Each organ donor actually saves 3.2 lives since a dead person has the potential to donate more than one organ.
MEDICA.de: As well when you take into account possible organ rejections?
Kirste: Rejections do not happen very often. Transplanting kidneys and livers has a success rate of 90 percent, hearts and lugs of 85 percent. Transplants are a great success story.
MEDICA.de: In Spain, there are 34 organ donors per a million inhabitants, in Germany, there are only 16. Do these numbers represent different laws in the two countries since people in Germany explicitly have to agree to be organ donors, whereas people in Spain are potential organ donors as long as they do not explicitly disagree?
Kirste: Regarding the total number of organ donors these two different approaches through agreement or disagreement only play a subordinate role. In Austria, for example, you will find some areas with even less organ donors than in some German areas even though the Austrians are also subject to the disagreement law like the Spanish people. The German organ donor has only legal advantages since everybody, also those people not possessing a pass, are potential organ donors. In such a case, medics will ask relatives whether they know about the deceased wishes. However, this is a time-consuming procedure and time is not a resource that German physicians have.
MEDICA.de: Well, what are the reasons for the high rates of organ donors in Spain then?
Kirste: Special educated staff is employed in Spanish hospitals. That staff specifically look for potential organ donors and therefore in the end find more potential donors than in Germany.
MEDICA.de: Does this mean that Germany wastes many potential donor organs due to a lack of time?
Kirste: Yes. Physicians cannot be assigned to more tasks than they already do. This is a dangerous situation because these additional tasks are no less important. They are also important for saving human lives.
MEDICA.de: Do you think that more special staff in the hospital could lead to more organ donors?
Kirste: Yes. We have to improve the situation in Germany.
MEDICA.de: In the UK, pupils are already informed about the importance of donor organs in school. Should we do this in Germany, too?
Kirste: Absolutely. Our experience is that people clued-up on organ donations often give their agreement to donate organs. The DSO offers material for schools on its website, but somehow it seems to be difficult to establish the topic in schools all over the republic.
MEDICA.de: Is there another country which could be a role model for Germany?
Kirste: Yes, in the US, each person taking driving license lessons is being asked whether to become an organ donor or not.
The interview was conducted by Simone Heimann