Under 18s will be allowed to donate organs only if big majority backs it, Hong Kong minister says

Health minister Ko Wing-man makes comment as he pledges to consult public on easing transplant law in wake of concern about acute liver failure patient

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 April, 2017, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 April, 2017, 11:20pm

Amendments to the transplant law allowing people under 18 to be living donors would be considered only if a significant majority backed it, the health minister said.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man was commenting as the government pledged to launch a public consultation soon on whether to amend the Human Organ Transplant Ordinance after a 17-year-old girl wanted to donate part of her liver to save her mother, but was barred as she was three months shy of the legal age to make a donation.

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

Her mother, Tang Kwai-sze, who received a second liver transplant on Thursday, continued to make progress on Saturday. Tang had her first transplant on April 13 with a liver donated by Momo Cheng Hoi-yan, but the organ did not function well. Tang had been suffering from acute liver failure.

“She is improving and can open her eyes,” said Dr Kelvin Ng Kwok-chai from Queen Mary Hospital’s liver transplant centre.

While Tang’s liver function was also improving, Ng said she still needed dialysis and a ventilator to help her breathe.

Undersecretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee thanked Cheng for saving Tang with the initial donation. She said Cheng had shown great love and served as a role model for society.

The health minister said wide support would be needed for any changes.

“It would be better to push a legal amendment if there is a stronger consensus. But if opinion is divided or only a small number supports [changes], I believe it won’t be easy to amend the law,” Ko told a television show on Saturday.

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While some medical professionals, including top liver transplant expert Professor Lo Chung-mau, oppose lowering the legal age for living donors, Ko said it would still be appropriate to start a discussion.

“How would you assess the difference in the state of mind of an 18 year old and a 17 year old? Personally I think it is still appropriate to start such a discussion,” he said.

The number of people signing up on the Centralised Organ Donation Register increased after Tang’s case became known. Ko said the number of new registrations had increased from several hundred in the first week of this month to over 1,500 in the past week, bringing the total number of registered donors to more than 250,000.

Despite the recent surge, Ko said more had to be done to educate people about organ donations.

Hong Kong’s rate of organ donation is among the lowest in the world. In 2015, the city had 5.8 donors per million people, in contrast to the rate of 39.7 in Spain.