Vietnam News

Lack of body donors due to cultural beliefs

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Vietnam is short on cadavers needed for medical research as long-held views prevent locals from donating.

Nguyen Duc Nghia, deputy head of the anatomy department at Hanoi Medical University, said that over the past 10 years, only 13 bodies have been donated to the hospital for much-needed training and research.

“That’s absolutely not enough for practice, study, training and research,” he said.

Nghia explained the lack of donated bodies stems from the values of many Vietnamese who believe that bodies should be kept whole after death. He said that many people actually do want to donate their bodies to science after death, only to be met with opposition from their families.

Although only 13 bodies have donated to his university over the last decade, Nghia revealed that around 1,200 people had actually requested to do so, only to have the request withdrawn by their families.

A major issue is that body donations in Vietnam require unanimous consent from all family members. But most people who sign up for body donation do so without informing their families, leading to a small number of bodies actually getting donated.

One example of the issue is the story of Nhu Duy, a student and terminally ill cancer patient from Nghe An who wanted to donate his body after death. But his family vehemently opposed the idea.

Once he died, his family initially refused to honor his final wishes to have his body donated to science. It took encouragement from doctors before his family agreed to his last request. But ever since, and for years afterwards, Duy’s family has been met with dirty looks and gossip from neighbors, with rumors saying they “sold their son’s body.”

“I hope more people will understand this beautiful act,” said Nghia. “Body donation could help with research and resolve the body shortage that has been plaguing the medical industry for years.”

Hanoi Medical University only has about two cadavers to use per year on average. During training sessions for medical students studying on donated cadavers, 8-10 students are supposed to work on a single body. However, due to the current body shortage, over 20 students currently work on one body at the same time.

“If there were more donated bodies, doctors and students would have a much better chance to practice, study and research,” Nghia said.

Dong Van He, deputy director of Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi, said many doctors have to travel to universities abroad to practice on actual bodies due to the shortage of donated cadavers in Vietnam.

However, other countries in the region, including China and Singapore, are also facing similar issues. From 1999 to 2018, only 2,600 bodies were donated in Beijing out of over 21,000 requests to do so, Xinhua reported. In Singapore, from 1972 to 2012, only 400 people signed up for their bodies to be donated to science, according to statistics from the National Organ Transplant Unit.

By Thuy Quynh – – March 29, 2023

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