Vital signs

Legislation to boost and regulate organ transplantation in the country is on the anvil. The Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Bill, 2009, has been passed by the Lok Sabha. The bill increases the pool from which a patient can draw organs. The list of ‘near relatives’ who can donate organs, which included a spouse, parents and siblings, has been expanded to include grandparents and grandchildren. Besides, it allows for swapping organs between relatives of two patients whose organs find a better match with an unrelated donor.

The bill makes it mandatory for ICU staff to request relatives of brain-dead patients to consider organs donation. By increasing the pool of donors and encouraging and easing the way for legal donation, the government is hoping that the acute demand for organs, that fuels illegal trade in it, will be reduced. The bill provides for monitoring and stern action against those engaging in organ trade which has been active in supplying to foreign nationals visiting this country for transplants. In a bid to clampdown on this, the bill requires approval of the Authorisation Committee before organs or tissue are removed or transplanted. A National Organ Retrieval, Banking and Transplantation Network will be set so  that the donation and transplant process functions smoothly.

While legislation regulating organ transplantation is necessary, it alone will not achieve the goals of increasing donation or preventing trafficking. It is important that the law is implemented and applied with seriousness. Awareness about organ transplant is low in India. That must be addressed too. Organ transplants can give patients a new lease of life. Yet people are reluctant to donate organs of their brain-dead relatives, even of cadavers. Religious beliefs stand in the way of donation.

Sometimes it is sheer apathy. No one wants to run around getting the paper work done to permit harvesting of organs from a cadaver. Hopefully, under the new legislation, hospitals will facilitate the process.

The illegal trade in organs is not difficult to stop. It is not restricted to dark alleys or remote corners of the country. It is happening in some of the most-respected hospitals in our cities. It is being deliberately overlooked, often in the name of promoting medical tourism. What is needed is political will to act against it.

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