Doctors have welcomed the Hospital Authority's decision to waive the medical fees of live-organ donors, saying the move gives recognition to people who risk their own health to save others.
Since last month, the authority has waived all medical fees - including hospital stays, medical investigations and pre-transplant counselling - of living-organ donors.
While organ donors in the United States, Britain and Singapore are allowed under the law to be financially compensated, those in Hong Kong do not have a similar benefit. And until last month, donors here were still required to pay their own medical fees at public hospitals. Some doctors had complained that the policy was insensitive, and called for a waiver.
Last year, 42 living donors gave part of their livers and 12 donated one of their kidneys, according to the authority.
Chau Ka-foon, president of the Hong Kong Society of Transplantation, welcomed the fee waiver.
'We always encourage organ donation from deceased patients instead of living donors. But as some patients in reality have to rely on living donors, we should give those donors due recognition,' she said.
An authority spokesman said the policy had been changed due to a rethink which concluded that because organ donors were not seeking treatment at public hospitals, they should not be charged.
'It does not mean we encourage organ donations from living donors. We always promote organ donation from deceased patients,' the spokesman said.
Dr Chau, who is a consultant physician at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said high medical fees had deterred potential living donors, especially those who are not Hong Kong residents, from coming forward.
While Hong Kong residents pay only HK$100 a day at public hospitals - including all fees, medical investigations and operations - visitors have to pay HK$3,300 a day, and extra for other procedures and tests.
A potential kidney donor has to undergo detailed medical checks, and counselling with a clinical psychologist three months before a transplant. The check-ups include blood tests, ultrasound and CT scans. The donor also has to undergo regular medical consultations for a year after the transplant.
'The waiver may not mean much to local donors but it means a lot to visitors, who otherwise have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for donating an organ to save lives,' Dr Chau said.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital handled a case a few months ago in which a mainland woman donated a kidney to her younger sister in Hong Kong.
'We advised the elder sister from the mainland to get the ultrasound scans and CT scans in the private sector because the price was much cheaper. The medical bill was quite expensive for the family,' Dr Chau said.
Singapore on Tuesday passed a law allowing organ recipients to pay donors to help cover expenses like hospital and surgery fees. It brings the country in line with similar practices in the United States and Britain, where donors are compensated.
Dr Chau said Hong Kong was nowhere near following such a controversial practice. 'Society needs more discussions,' she said. 'There has not yet been a consensus about this issue, even within the medical profession. Someone may ask if an organ donor can be financially compensated, what about a blood donor?'