MORE Malaysians are becoming organ donors after the heart-warming tale of teenager Tee Hui Yi, who underwent two heart transplants, made newspaper headlines.
The donations by the families of a 15-year-old Malay teenager from Perak and a 20-year-old Chinese man from Johor touched many Malaysians. Both donors had died in traffic accidents.
National Transplant Resource Centre chief coordinator Lela Yasmin Mansor described it as a "tsunami that crushed the wall of resistance".
The authorities see this as a chance to break the taboos on organ donations, especially among the older generation of Muslims, who fear a mutilation of the body and harbour doubts about donating to a non-Muslim.
As at June this year, 108,500 people had pledged to donate their organs, but there had been only 197 actual donations since 1997, when the government started keeping a registry.
Sixty-two per cent of the pledges were from Chinese, 23 per cent from Indians, 12 per cent from Malays and 3 per cent from other races.
More than half the pledges came from women, Health Minister Chua Soi Lek said last week.
There are more than 6,500 patients on the waiting list for donor organs.
Ms Jamaliah Kario, senior national transplant coordinator of the National Transplant Resource Centre, said the phones have been ringing non-stop since the media highlighted the Hui Yi case.
Officials say there is no data on new organ donor pledges, but there has been a rush of people who want to opt into the scheme after media reports of the Hui Yi case.
Last Friday, 43 people signed up as organ donors at a Lions Club event in Terengganu, while 29 opted in at the Parti Gerakan national meeting in Kuala Lumpur at the weekend.
The New Straits Times reported that in the past five days, six kidneys had been donated by the families of three brain-dead patients.
The Malay press, led by Umno-owned mass-selling daily Utusan Malaysia, took the lead in making an appeal for a donor for Hui Yi.
The 14-year-old had been on a mechanical heart for one year, but time was running out.
The heart from the Malay boy was transplanted last week, but her body rejected it. She underwent a second transplant a day later.
She is in stable condition, the hospital said yesterday.
The news came as a breath of fresh air to Malaysians, who have become increasingly distressed by strained race relations of late.
When opening the annual conference of the Gerakan party on Saturday, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi admitted that race and religion remained divisive issues, but said the government was not in denial.
In an open letter published in The Star yesterday, Malaysian Chinese Association president Ong Ka Ting thanked Malaysians for rising above prejudice.
"This is the real Malaysia, where every act transcends race and religion and reaffirms the fact that all human beings are the same," he wrote.
Under Malaysian law, those who want to become organ donors must sign up. But their families can refuse consent even if the person has signed a pledge, and often do so.
In 1970, the Malaysian Islamic authorities had issued a religious edict saying it was permissible for Muslims to donate organs.
But that was not enough to counter a belief among some Muslims that an incomplete body cannot go to heaven, a commentator wrote in the Utusan newspaper.
"In Islam, donating one's organs is considered a noble act," Department of Islamic Development chief Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz said in a statement last week.
He was also quoted in Utusan as saying that religion does not stand in the way of saving lives, and Muslims can give their organs to non-Muslims.
Ms Jamaliah of the National Transplant Resource Centre is hopeful that the renewed interest in organ donation will continue.
The centre carries out campaigns regularly, and will soon begin accepting pledges over the Internet.