Marriage Contract: Why does Lee Seo Jin have to marry UEE?
Why does Ji Hoon (Lee Seo Jin) have to marry Hye Soo (UEE)? As the drama's title suggests, Marriage Contract is about the two characters entering a contractual marriage to satisfy each other's particular circumstances and needs. The reason may seem absurd to Western viewers, but it is a real-life dilemma for people in Korea and in other Asian countries.
As viewers who have watched episode 1 have discovered, Ji Hoon (Lee Seo Jin) is desperately seeking a liver transplant for his ailing mother. His own doesn't match. Time is running out. He decides that the solution is to marry someone whose liver is compatible for the transplant. It would be a business transaction with a marriage contract, of course.
For many international viewers, especially those of us who live in western countries where strangers are allowed to donate, we wonder why the couple has to marry. If it is a monetary transaction, legal or not, why does it require getting married?
The first answer is cultural. In societies that have been heavily influenced by Confucianism from China, the traditional belief is that the dead must be preserved in whole, making it difficult to get cadaver donations, as families are often reluctant to agree to donating their deceased loved ones' organs. There is, therefore, a severe shortage of available organs.
Once medical technology advanced to develop liver-transplant surgeries using a living donor's liver, this type of liver transplantation has become popular in Korea. Most of the cases involve adult children donating to parents. It was reported by WHO (World Health Organization) in 2011 that Korea recorded the largest number of liver transplants from living donors. Many foreign surgeons have also visited leading Korean hospitals to learn liver transplant techniques.
The second answer has to do with very strict laws.
To prevent coercive organ trades, Korea's organ transplant law states that only close relatives and emotionally attached individuals are allowed, provided of course there is a good transplant match. Monetary compensation is obviously forbidden.
This is why, in Marriage Contract, even after passing the transplant compatibility test and getting married, Lee Seo Jin and UEE still have to face a counselor who questions them in extensive detail about their relationship to make sure that UEE is a genuine relative and a voluntary donor.
(On a side note: Taiwan is even stricter, allowing only up to "5 levels" of family relations. There was a famous case where a wealthy businessman's illegitimate adult child was willing to donate her liver to her father, but she was barred because she was not registered in the household registry and therefore was not considered a family relative. Her father passed away without receiving the liver transplant.)
We've only had 4 episodes so far, and time will tell if the surgery will go through. A further potential complication is that UEE has kept her brain illness as secret in order to proceed with the marriage contract.
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