Hispanics are less likely to donate organs than the rest of America despite the fact they make up 45 per cent of patients on the waiting list.
The Hispanic community’s reticence about donating organs could lead to a crisis within the field of donation, particularly as the Hispanic population is soaring.
Their lack of willingness to donate centres on religion as many believe that without a whole body, they will not be able to get into heaven.
When Norma Garcia’s 13-year-old daughter was killed in a car wreck, she had no idea that in the midst of her grief she was about to plunge into a controversy that would test her cultural identity, Christian faith and cause a rift in the family.
After Jasmine Garcia was declared brain dead following the 2001 accident, doctors at San Antonio’s University Hospital asked her mother if she would be willing to donate her daughter’s organs.
She said: ‘The majority of my family had a belief that, “How could you do that? How could you allow her to be mutilated? How could you let them take her heart out?”
‘My parents are from Mexico, and they had the feeling that, “She is your daughter. Why would you allow them to do this to her?”‘
Garcia ultimately made an organ donation of Jasmine’s heart and liver, a decision that left her estranged from several relatives for some time, she recalled.
Her experience highlights the cultural divide that organ donation advocates say is threatening the ability of surgeons to save lives through organ transplants, especially as new census figures show the nation’s Hispanic population surging.
First- and second-generation Mexican-Americans are the least likely to donate organs, according to organ donation experts.
Esmeralda Perez of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance said: ‘We find that the Hispanic community tells us, “My religion says not to donate”, and “I can’t have an open casket because the body will be damaged”.
‘They feel that their loved one will be disfigured, or the person will not be able to get into heaven because their body will not be whole.’
In South Texas along the Rio Grande from Brownsville to Laredo, where Latinos make up the vast majority of 1.4 million residents–many of them first-generation Mexican-Americans–organs from just 19 individuals were donated in 2010, according to the alliance.
She said that 45 per cent of patients on the national waiting list to receive organs are Hispanic.
Nuvia Enriquez, Hispanic outreach coordinator for the Donor Network of Arizona, said they are trying to dissolve some of the myths that Latinos hold on organ donation and religion.
She said: ‘We talk to them about the Catholic Church’s position on donation, which is very positive. Pope John Paul II was actually the first pope to declare donation to be an act of love, and Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal, was a card-carrying organ donor.’
Ms Garcia said her relatives, who once so strongly criticized her decision to donate Jasmine’s organs, have since become big supporters of organ donation.
‘After we all got more educated, and the family started attending these events where donors’ families meet organ recipients, and seeing how much of a difference this has made in the lives of others and the good they could do for all these people, and how this was keeping Jasmine’s memory alive, I think they realized it was the right decision,’ she said.