My Take

Liver transplant from donor with cancer would have been a calculated risk worth taking

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 1:21am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 1:21am

Our hearts go out to Stephen Lee and his family.

Doctors of the dying liver patient have found a suitable organ of the same blood type from a brain-dead patient. Unfortunately for reasons that were not disclosed yesterday, the latter patient's family refused an organ donation.

Since we don't have full knowledge of the facts and circumstances, it may be too rash to criticise that family. But on a human level, their decision is difficult to comprehend when it seems a life can be saved at minimal cost to anyone. Perhaps this case will alert us to the urgent need to educate the public about organ donation.

It must be said, however, that Lee, 46, - who is suffering from massive liver failure and has only a short time to live without a transplant - would not have been in this predicament if his doctors had gone ahead with an earlier transplant operation.

He was already cut open on the operating table when surgeons at the Queen Mary Hospital suddenly halted the operation after being told at the last minute that the donor patient had kidney cancer. Professor Lo Chung-Mau, a world expert on liver transplants, has defended his team's decision to shelve the liver operation. He said there was a chance the cancer could spread to Lee if they had proceeded.

Most experts, however, agree that the chances of spreading the cancer this way were slim. In any case, they observed the tumour in the late patient's kidney was likely to be at an early stage.

The decision on whether to complete the operation had to do with logic and ethics as much as with medical expertise. Without an organ transplant, Lee faces certain death. Between choosing a life-saving transplant operation that may potentially cause cancer, though unlikely, and cancelling the operation, most people, laymen and experts alike, would pick the former. It's a calculated risk well worth taking. The logical basis of his surgeons' reasoning is therefore difficult to understand.

There is no doubt the uncompleted operation contributed to stresses on Lee's rapidly weakening body, making it even worse for him.

The clock is ticking. We dearly wish a suitable organ may still be found in time.