Knowledge Transfer

Organs of Hope

The shortage of organs for transplants is a widespread problem, but it is particularly serious in Hong Kong. Donation rates here are significantly lower than elsewhere, leading to an imbalance in supply and demand and a need for policy reform to improve the situation.

With this in mind, an International Workshop on Bioethics and Public Policy was held on 17 March at City University of Hong Kong. Funded by the University Grants Committee’s Knowledge Transfer Earmarked Fund, the workshop was organised by Global China Studies, an interdisciplinary project run by College of Liberal Art sand Social Sciences, and coordinated by Professor Ruiping FAN of the Department of Public Policy.

The key objective was to explore the merits and problems of different models of family-based organ donation in mainland China and the United States as a basis for facilitating relevant policy reform in Hong Kong.

Special attention was paid to current laws, policies and practices in China and the US regarding authorisation and consent for the donation of organs of the recently deceased. The workshop also discussed a proposal made in some US states to usher in “presumed consent” policies and seek legal authorisation to take organs from just deceased patients, regardless of the family’s wishes.

The policy of China’s Ministry of Health since 2010 sets out a basic principle concerning the priority right of organ donors and for their close family members to receive organs when needed. Giving a reasonable priority right to living donors or close family members of deceased organ donors on the waiting list for, say, a liver or kidney transplant encourages organ donation and enhances the donors’ inclination to help others in this way.

Discussing these international experiences and practices helped in addressing what is practically effective, ethically justifiable, and politically legitimate to increase the rate of donations in Hong Kong.

In total, there were seven instructive and insightful presentations. The guest speakers were all recognised specialists in the area of organ donation and transplants. They were CAI Yu, Director of the Center for Applied Ethics and Culture and Professor in the Business School of Yunnan University of Finance and Economics, Kunming; Mark J. CHERRY, the Dr Patricia A. Hayes Professor in Applied Ethics and Professor of Philosophy, St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas; Xiaoshun HE, Professor of Surgery and Vice-President, the First Affiliated Hospital, Sun Yat-sen University; Benjamin HIPPEN, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine; George KHUSHF, Director of the Center for Bioethics and Professor of Philosophy, University of South Carolina; MAO Yilei, Professor of Surgery in the Department of Liver Surgery, Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) Hospital; Ryan R. NASH, Director of the Ohio State University Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities; and WANG Haibo, Director of China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS).

Their presentation topics included the “dead donor rule”, the use of executed prisoners’ organ, legislation and institutionalisation of organ donation and transplants, and the role of family and other cultural factors in the governing process.