Published: Tuesday 15 December 1998

The seven month-old organ donation law, enacted to prevent commercial dealing in human organs and protect the rights of donors and transplant patients, has come in for a lot of criticism. The law may need an overhaul to protect the rights of unconscious patients after "unforeseen difficulties", according to a team which has to approve contentious transplants.

There is no provision for next-of-kin to sign consent forms for life-saving operations for patients in a coma, chairperson of the Human Organ Transplant Board, Sophie Leung, said. According to her, under the new law, she and fellow board members could be prosecuted if they allow a transplant without a recipient's written authority.

She was speaking after the death of a 41-year-old patient Fung Kwok-leung. The doctors were afraid to do a transplant because of the fear of being prosecuted, even if they found a donor, Leung said. Under the law, despite the fact that the patient is in coma, his permission has to be obtained before she is operated. The board was set up to monitor organ transplants. It also considers applications from people who want to donate organs but are not related to the intended recipient. The members said it was time to change the law, enacted on 1 April, 1998. Leung, who is also a legislator, said: "We want the government to review the law and give us discretionary powers so if a patient is in a coma, we can assess the level of acceptance for the organ. Although the ordinance has been discussed thoroughly, there are still some unforeseen operational difficulties.

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