Many children have grown up normally in HK after having liver transplants

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2011, 12:00am


I read with dismay the letter from Professor Andrew Burd ('Ethical issues must be considered', October 20). Professor Burd, a plastic surgeon, made uninformed comments on the outcome of paediatric liver transplants and argued against life-saving treatment based on cost comparison to plastic surgery.

Contrary to his statement that 'there is no transplant centre in the world that can offer a paediatric transplant patient a normal life in terms of quality and quantity', numerous studies have shown excellent quantity and quality of life after a liver transplant, particularly in children similar to little Li Liuxuan .

This statement is particularly disturbing as Hong Kong recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of liver transplantation. If Professor Burd were at the celebration, he would have seen many children who have grown up normally after transplantation. Medicine has an objective of improving rather than normalising life. Otherwise, everyone would be giving up on sick children with incurable diseases.

Life is precious and the medical profession should be the ultimate advocate for this.

I am astounded that Professor Burd argued like an economist rather than a doctor and concluded that life-saving transplants are not ethical because they are more expensive than plastic surgery. Hong Kong people respect life. Last year, everyone applauded liver donor Simon Hui Sai-man, who saved customs officer Yuen Wai-cheung when he urgently needed a liver transplant. We are not surprised by the warm public response to the call for financial support to save Li Liuxuan.

Professor Burd need not contribute to the donation, but how can he talk about ethical issues in this way when it comes to saving a dying child?

I understand that there are many children on the mainland who need a liver transplant and Hong Kong cannot serve them all. Nonetheless, we are discussing one child only, a child whose parents have decided not to give up on him. And they have brought him to Hong Kong. A doctor-patient relationship is very personal, as it should be. Any doctor who has seen this child will use every means to save him, and I am no exception.

I am glad to know that some primary schools have used his case to teach their students to care for the sick and the poor. Indeed, this is an excellent opportunity for medical ethics education for our profession as well.

Lo Chung-mau, head, department of surgery, The University of Hong Kong