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Body donors honored amid chronic shortage

BAI Xiaohong stood quietly at Fushouyuan Cemetery, with a bunch of white flowers on hand about 9am yesterday morning. In front of him was a memorial hall and monument for those who have donated their bodies to medical science in the city.

Bai's father, a military doctor who later was vice president of the Shanghai Red Cross Society, died and donated his body 27 years ago.

"When I was a child, my father always said how hard it is for medical students because there were not enough cadavers," Bai said, recalling his father, who was one of the earliest advocates of body donation in the city.

Bai's father is one of 4,758 locals who have given either their bodies or corneas for medical research since Shanghai became the first city on China's mainland to allow the practice in 1982.

Meanwhile, 26,940 residents had registered to donate either their bodies or corneas by the end of last year. Most are middle-aged or senior citizens. Downtown residents outnumbered their suburban counterparts, according to the Shanghai Red Cross.

However, the number is far from enough to meet the city's demand. Seven hundred corpses are needed for medical use at local hospitals and medical schools every year, while only about 400 are provided by donors, Red Cross officials said.

About 100,000 people lose their lives in Shanghai every year.

"We are calling for more locals of goodwill to give their bodies," one body donation official, who refused to be named, said at the annual "Body Donation Day" yesterday.

At the cemetery yesterday morning, Bai joined another 700-plus volunteers and relatives of body donors to commemorate the city's sixth "Body Donation Day."

It is held every year on March 1 to pay tribute to those who gave their bodies to medical science.

"All the donors are great people and their lives are meaningful," Bai told Shanghai Daily, hailing his father and all the other donors who had their names inscribed on the cemetery's memorial wall.

Local reluctance

But not everybody approves of body donation.

A recent survey by Lao°?ximen Community in downtown Huangpu District found only 43 percent of respondents were comfortable with the idea of body donation. About half of the people surveyed were reluctant to see family members give up their remains after death.

Xie Lijuan, president of the Shanghai Red Cross Society, said it's due to deep-rooted Chinese beliefs.

"Chinese people always think that the earth is the best resting place and shelter (after death)," Xie said. "It makes it difficult for people to donate their bodies and it is a big challenge for us."

The idea is even more deep-rooted in rural areas, where intended body donors are 20 times fewer than in the city's downtown districts.

In 2001, Shanghai was the first city on China's mainland to issue regional laws on body donation to make the process more efficient. The regulation ruled that donations could be accepted only after two documents - a death certificate and residency cancellation letter - were ready.

Family members said the requirements make it more difficult to donate a body as it usually takes some time to get both documents. A body donation needs to be completed within 12 hours of death.


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