High-res version

I’m a fan of thrillers and 100% behind SA’s burgeoning performing arts.  “Bypass” is a South African transplant movie, and I went to see it.  I thought the story-line was quite compelling with elements of love, suspense, surprise and a twist-in-the-tail.  I also thought the acting was great.  I am no movie critic though…  The plot – briefly:  A desperate mother flies to an east-African country to purchase a liver for her dying son.  But, she soon discovers that the ‘donors’ are impoverished people from the community whose lives are considered ‘worthless’.  These individuals are literally ‘killed for their organs’ which can save the lives of those with the potential to make a meaningful contribution to society.

So…  It’s just a film!  What’s the problem?

Most notably, the way in which organ donation and transplant is portrayed could, in my opinion, be quite damaging.  Here’s why…


Organ transplant, as it happens on the ground, comes down to questions of life and death.  These seem quite abstract to many of us, and they make for a great movie.  But for those who have actually lived the experience, transplant often becomes a quintessential part of their identity.  For recipients, there’s the challenge of re-identifying yourself as you move into a new phase of life, with an organ from someone else in your body.  For donor families there is a time of grief, tinged with hope and the long search for closure and peace after losing a loved-one.  None of this should be taken lightly and you get a sense of the profound ways that transplant affects people by reading this blog, by a lung recipient.  So, I think Bypass rather sensationalises and over-simplifies an issue that is much more complex.


Next, Bypass claims to be “inspired by true events”.  I imagine that the ‘true event’ being referred to is the infamous Netcare Case.  I am absolutely not condoning the actions of anyone involved in the Netcare Case, but I must point out that no-one was ‘killed for their organs’ – it revolved around living ‘donor’ transplant.  It would be a great pity if Bypass exacerbates a general misconception and mistrust about organ transplant which is already prevalent in the SA setting.  This could ultimately prevent people from consenting to donate organs of a loved one.


Finally, Bypass employs some highly emotive, negatively-connoted terminology.  Donors are referred to as “stock” and the procedure of organ extraction is referred to as “harvesting” – a term which is not accepted in the international transplant community.


Sure, I think Bypass has been a success in creating debate, and I realise that this post sounds a lot like the fun-police, these annoying academics…  But I’m not sure our transplant system can withstand such a negative portrayal.  (Some may say:  “Of course it can” – look at how many new sign-ups took place after the Bypass advertising campaign.  But a word of caution, you’d be mistaken to think that a new sign-up actually equated to another organ donor, as discussed here).


The views published in this blog are entirely my own (informed) opinions.  They are open to debate, discussion and disagreement.