Easing transplants

The government has taken a long-overdue step to ease organ transplantation. It has amended the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994. The amended Act will cover transplantation of tissues, bone and skin in addition to that of organs provided under the 1994 Act. It expands the list of legal donors. The list of ‘near relatives’ that were allowed to donate so far included the spouse, parents or siblings. This has been expanded now to include grandparents and grandchildren. The amended Act also allows families to swap organs. This will mean that unrelated donors will be able to exchange organs without commercial transactions when such transplants are medically feasible. The amended Act aims at putting in place a nationwide organ transplantation network that will involve hospitals maintaining a database of patients requiring transplants and keeping track of organs when they become available, and matching these with waiting patients. It also takes steps to encourage harvesting of organs from human cadavers. It proposes to introduce the concept of ‘required request’ under which doctors will be required to ask patients on or before admission to a hospital whether they would consider donating their organs should such circumstances arise. In a bid to deter illegal trade in organs, the amended Act provides for more stringent action. Doctors and touts who engage in illegal trade in organs can expect a jail term of 10 years instead of the current five years.

The illegal trade in organs is big business involving hospitals, doctors and middlemen. It thrives on the exploitation of the poor. There are thousands of poor people who have sold their organs for a pittance. Often organs are removed without the individual’s knowledge. These organs are then sold for exorbitant sums to patients who are in need of transplants.

The amended Act on transplant of organs and tissues is a boon to patients in need of transplants. It improves the availability of organs and tissues for transplant by expanding the circle of legal donors. Simultaneously, it hopes to reduce the incentive to engage in illegal trade by seeking to diminish the desperation and demand for organs. It is a step in the right direction. But there are powerful interests involved in the illegal racket. They are unlikely to give up their profits easily. They will look for loopholes to keep the illegal trade alive. The government and civil society must remain vigilant.

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