Hong Kong legislator prepared law to allow girl to donate part of her liver to save her mother

In the end, amendment was not needed as liver was found; daughter was three months shy of legal age to donate organ

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 10:57pm

A rare show of unity among political parties was behind a move to allow a 17-year-old girl to donate part of her liver to her mother, who was suffering from acute liver failure.

Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, undersecretary for food and health, confirmed on Friday morning that Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok had drafted a bill which would have been valid only until May 1 and submitted it to health minister Dr Ko Wing-man.

It was eventually not needed because a donor was found to give part of her liver to the ailing woman.

But Chan did not rule out using a similar approach in future for urgent cases. She said it would have protected doctors, the donor and the recipient from breaking the law.

Kwok, the legal sector lawmaker, told the Post his plan emerged on Wednesday night when medical sector lawmaker Pierre Chan asked him for help after the girl, known only as Michelle, was barred from becoming a donor because she was three months shy of 18 – the legal age to become a living donor.

Kwok then drafted a bill to amend the Human Organ Transplant Ordinance to provide for a sunset clause that a minor of 17 years old or above could be a donor. The change would have come into operation immediately after endorsement by the Legislative Council.

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“I reached out to pro-Beijing representatives and the amendment was supported by different parties. Ko agreed to put it to Legco right after the second reading of the Appropriation Bill and to get it ready to pass as early as Thursday.” Kwok said.

The lawmaker said finding another donor was the best scenario. “The amendment may breach medical ethics in some way. It is lucky that a brave donor showed up.”

Kwok welcomed the rare unity among different political parties. “This is what the public expects us to do.”

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king confirmed that Kwok had won support from the pro-Beijing camp. “Saving lives is our first priority. We are always willing to cooperate with different parties and contribute to society.” she said.

Michelle said she felt her mother, Tang Kwai-sze, had been “lost and found” after a last-minute transplant was carried out on Thursday. A 26-year-old woman surnamed Cheng donated part of her liver.

“I felt [my mother was] lost and found. I’m really touched. Many thanks to [Cheng] and the support of her family,” Michelle told RTHK on her way to Queen Mary Hospital to visit her mother on Friday.

She said she had talked to Cheng and said the two families had become friends.

“I’m really grateful for their great and selfless decision to let our family be reborn,” she added.

Doctors who carried out the transplant said it was successful and that Cheng was already conscious.

Tang was stable but remained under observation in intensive care. The next three days would be critical, doctors said.

Hong Kong’s top liver transplant expert, Professor Lo Chung-mau, said calls for lowering the donation age limit to 17 were an “emotional” response.

“A minor is a minor. Whether she’s 17 and nine months, we cannot and should not cross the line,” he said.

“A liver donation from a living donor carries significant risks and only an adult should have the ability and the responsibility to think about whether she would accept the risks.

“A lot of things that a minor cannot do are defined by [the law], and we can argue where the line is but we need to draw a line.”

While Ko pledged on Thursday to consider amending the law, a patients’ concern group said young people who wanted to donate should be assessed more strictly.

Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, said: “Psychological assessment should be more thorough ... For example, maybe three psychologists are needed and the person won’t be allowed to donate even if one expert disagrees.”

He suggested the government should award the Gold Medal for Bravery to Cheng for donating part of her liver to Tang whom she did not know.

But Dr Gene Tsoi Wai-wang, a member of the Human Organ Transplant Board, a statutory body that approves transplants, questioned whether that sort of system would be feasible if the need for surgery was urgent.

He asked: “If we need the donor to receive three different assessments, could we do it in time?”

The government is considering changing the law to give the board discretion in handling cases, but Tsoi said the age limit for living donors could not be set too low.

“What would the long-term consequences be if a person has lost part of his or her liver as a teenager? They would have to be extra careful in their lifestyle,” Tsoi said.