Community & Education Environment & Health Hong Kong

Recent discussion on underage organ donation ‘over the top,’ says transplant expert

A prominent organ transplant expert has said that the recent discussion on underage organ donation may have created unnecessary pressure for a potential young donor.

The case of Tang Kwai-sze – a 43-year-old woman with acute liver failure – started a debate on whether underage people should be able to donate their organs. Tang’s daughter Michelle is three months shy of 18 and could not donate even though she wished to. Eventually an unrelated donor volunteered and doctors performed the transplant at Queen Mary Hospital last week.

Lo Chung-mau

Lo Chung-mau. File Photo: Stand News.

Professor Lo Chung-mau, director of Queen Mary Hospital’s Liver Transplant Centre, said live organ transplant is the last resort in emergency cases.

“We should not push a healthy person to become an unhealthy one,” Lo said on a Commercial Radio programme on Wednesday.

Lo said donors could change their minds after learning about the risks, but the media coverage of this incident may have created pressure for Michelle.

Lawmakers drafted an urgent bill last week in an attempt to temporarily lower the donation age to 17 so Michelle could give her liver to her mother, before the donor was found.

“The discussion in society and the move to change the law in the Legislative Council – they have been a bit over the top,” Lo said. “[Michelle] had not undergone any assessments. There have been a lot of discussion – even the media stressed that if she could not donate, she may feel very guilty – it is a lot of pressure for her.”

“If Michelle understood the risks and she did not want to donate anymore, would she be able to get away from the situation?”

He said society can discuss discretion for underage organ donation, but underage people should be protected and it was difficult to ascertain that their decisions are made completely independently.

Queen Mary Hospital

Queen Mary Hospital. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Tang was still in danger after the transplant and a follow-up operation to repair a vascular branch. Lo said Tang was able to move her eyes and react, but it was not certain if she had woken up.

Tang also required a machine to breath and her liver was not yet fully functioning.

Lo said the global success rate for a liver transplant was 70 per cent, and an assessment of Tang made before the operation put the success rate for her at 90 per cent.

Lo also said the 26-year-old donor, Ms. Cheng, is expected to recover and he believed that she can be discharged within a few days.

“Ms. Cheng has a very strong psychological status. She is very determined to help people,” he said. “The average time for donors to stay in the hospital is seven days.”

“We will provide follow-up consultation throughout her life, so that we can follow up with any physical or psychological issues.”

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Recent discussion on underage organ donation 'over the top,' says transplant expert