Lowering legal age for organ donors ‘got little support at Hong Kong government meeting’

Officials look into changing the law after case of 17-year-old girl barred from giving mother life-saving liver

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 1:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 1:48pm

The idea of letting children donate organs did not get much support at a meeting the government held with interest groups on Wednesday, a patients’ rights advocate has said.

But Tim Pang Hung-cheong, a spokesman for the Patients’ Rights Association, who was at the meeting, said some suggested a case-by-case assessment on underage donations might work.

The subject is on the table after a girl, known only as Michelle, was barred from giving part of her liver to save her mother, who was dying of acute liver failure. She was three months shy of 18, the legal age for a donor. Her mother eventually got a part of a liver from a different donor.

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After that saga, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man promised to look into changing the law.

Speaking on a radio programme on Thursday, Pang said the government met more than 30 people from patients’ associations, doctors’ and nurses’ groups, and children’s rights groups on Wednesday.

“There was a near-consensus among those who attended the meeting against the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach in lowering the legal age for organ donation from 18 years old,” he said.

“But a small group was of the opinion that discretion could be exercised in special cases, such as starting a system to assess these underage donors.”

He said most were still against lowering the age limit.

“Those in groups that protect children feel the children are not mature enough and should not undergo so much stress, while doctors feel that there is high pressure for those who have to operate on those underage as well,” Pang said.

The meeting also covered the possibility of an opt-out system for organ donation. Under such a system, a person would be considered a willing donor when they die, unless they had specifically objected to it.

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Pang said there was a consensus at the meeting that that was a good direction for Hong Kong in the future, but representatives thought “now is not the time”.

He said that was because the public is not familiar with the system and support for organ donation is low.

The advocate said it is most important for the government to consult the public and educate people, and think about how to improve the current opt-in scheme, such as by giving the Hospital Authority more resources.

Ko said in April the government would launch a formal public consultation on the matter by June.

The organ donation rate in Hong Kong is among the lowest in the world, with only 5.8 in every million people donating in 2015, compared with 39.7 in Spain. By the end of March more than 248,000 people had registered at the central organ donation register.