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When is a person dead?

In the Blauwe Zaal (UNS 50), visitors are looking at a large screen showing the beating heart of a patient during a transplantation operation. The arteries are disconnected and the heart is cooled with ice water to stop the beating. Then a hand grabs the muscle, takes it out, puts it into another chest and connects it to the arteries. As if it were a machine.

The film is part of a symposium on organ transplantation (last Wednesday), organised by first-year students from Saudi Arabia that follow the International Track in Medicine (ITM).

“They are very excited about it”, says lecturer and ITM-coordinator Mascha Verheggen. “It’s the first time they can present themselves, show what they are capable of. They did it all by themselves, invited the speakers, designed the posters, and organised some Arab snacks.”

Every year, between thirty and forty Saudis enrol at Maastricht University for a study of medicine. The first group started in January 2007. The language problems that these students experienced, are less prominent now, says Verheggen. “We demand higher qualifications in terms of language skills.”

Student Sarah Al Sadah gives a presentation about the situation in Saudi Arabia, which suffers from a similar shortage of donors as Western countries. It is remarkable that Saudi Arabians have a different view on the exact moment when a person is dead. In the West, someone is considered dead when there is no more brain activity, in Saudi Arabia the heart and respiration also need to have stopped.


Maurice Timmermans



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