The truth about a new South African thriller… bypassing (some of) the facts for a thrill?

Human Organ Transplant Bypass

A new South African thriller about organ donation may be “breaking the box office” but it could have far more breaking consequences… here’s why.


Here at GoodThingsGuy we believe in Good Things… and South African movies doing great at the box-office is a good thing but when that movie features something in the wrong way, that might change opinions and lessen the chance of a life being saved, then we need to give you a heads up on the reality of the situation.

Also, we’re a little biased because one of our biggest supporters who has followed GoodThingGuy from day one, is dating one of our other biggest supporters, who was given a second chance at life thanks to a double lung transplant.

So we contacted Dr. Harriet Etheredge to get her opinion on the movie.

Dr. Etheredge is a medical bioethicist and health communication specialist who also happens to be one of the top 200 young South Africans for 2016. And this is what she had to say…

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).

So if you want to watch the movie, do so informed with the reality… and if you want to know more about organ donation, click here.

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

Sources: Dr. Harriet Etheredge – opinion leader for GoodThingsGuy
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The Good Things Guy
Brent Lindeque is the founder and man in charge at Good Things Guy. Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

1 Comment

  1. Marilee Chananie

    May 17, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you for the truth. And well written comments. As a recipient, I have the utmost respect for my donor’s family, who in the midst of the sadest time in their lives, were willing to donate and give me and others a 2nd chance at life. My donor is part of me. Together we aim at making a meaningful contribution (along with a lot of other passionate volunteers and recipients and their supporters!) towards organ donor awareness. More awareness = more possibilities for donor organs saving lives.
    This is REAL life. Not some movie. This IS about life and death. It’s about how misconceptions a movie and it’s promotion (odd as that appears to have been) have created that have a damaging effect on all the hard work being done.
    Was any rational thought actually given to the consequences? Talk about the hurt it’s causing…to me, my family of fellow recipients, to donors families.. to the highly skilled medical professionals who are involved in transplants in SA.
    Be that as it is…I personally won’t give up my efforts to put the truth out there. Please, have the Organ donation conversation. Let truth, and saving lives, prevail.

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