Lawmakers call for promoting organ donation culture

Published: May 1, 2017
Experts say unless country-wide uniform laws are made, ‘soft’ zones will allow traffickers to flourish. PHOTO: FILE

Experts say unless country-wide uniform laws are made, ‘soft’ zones will allow traffickers to flourish. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: With efforts by the government to curb illegal and illicit organ trade in the capital failing thus far, a panel of lawmakers has suggested amendments to a proposed law on the subject which calls for improving the volunteered supply of organs.

A parliamentary committee on health had last week approved a number of amendments in the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues (Amendment) Bill 2017 for the Islamabad Capital Territory raising punishments for violators and suggesting various initiatives to promote a culture of organ donation to curb illegal trade.

But with the law only limited to Islamabad and the provinces expected to make their own laws, officials suspect that this may offer a loophole for the illegal trade to continue where the laws are ‘softer’ unless a uniform law and coordinated national system of donation are implemented across the country.

A meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination had met with Khalid Hussain Magsi in the chair late last week. The panel discussed and approved the bill.

The amendments made would see punishments increase from five-year prison terms to ten years with the fines scaled up to Rs50 million.

State Minister for National Health Services Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar said that any hospital found involved in illegal organ transplantation would be sealed and licences of health practitioners involved would be cancelled for at least five years.

Moreover, to promote a culture of donating organs, messages would be printed on Identity cards and driving licenses.

Further, hospitals would be allowed to harvest cadavers and preserve organs for registered recipients.

However, health experts said that recipient and donor pools should be broadened and a nationally coordinated list should be developed so that citizens from anywhere can receive the organs – which expire after 24 hours.Currently, the provinces have their own bodies which govern and regulate organ transplant, but there is no uniformity in the laws from province to province.

“All countries in the world, no matter how devolved their health systems are, have a national list of donors and recipients and a nationally coordinated transplantation system,” said Health Ministry Director General Dr Assad Hafeez.

However, he added that the live donor system cannot fulfil the needs of people in the country where renal failure was quite common and its transplant was comparatively easier compared to other organs. This is why, he said, illegal transplants were common at small clinics.

Unless there is a system in place for cadaveric harvesting along with lists of donor and recipients to match them between all provincial authorities, illegal transplants will continue, he said.

The lawmakers had raised this question during last week’s meeting, noting that laws would need to be implemented across the country by taking all the provinces on board to follow.

National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights Chairman Babar Nawaz Khan, who had moved the bill, said illegal kidney transplants were continuing in private hospitals of the twin cities.

He said that young boys were coerced to part with their kidneys and such cases have been reported from Rawalpindi, and Model Town in Lahore. He further pointed out that those arrested from Rawalpindi around three months ago for selling kidneys were currently roaming free. On Saturday, the Federal Investigation Agency had also busted an illegal organ transplant network in Lahore.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2017.

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