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Taiwan considering allowing friends, consenting adults to be organ donars

Growing waiting list for organs leads health ministry to consider relaxing transplant regulations

Health official Shih Chung-liang debates potential changes to organ transplant law. (CNA photo)

Health official Shih Chung-liang debates potential changes to organ transplant law. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — At the moment, recipients of living organ donations must be relatives within the fifth degree of kinship to the donor or their spouse, according to Article 8 of the Human Organ Transplant Act (人體器官移植條例).

This regulation has proved problematic as the number of individuals requiring organ transplants continues to grow, leading the government to consider amending the act to include “non-blood relatives” or, in other words, allowing “friends” and other consenting adults to make living organ donations, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Department of Medical Affairs Director-General Shih Chung-liang (石崇良).

A series of meetings have been held among medical experts and government officials to revise the Organ Transplant Act. Shih also said that more time was needed to build social consensus, per UDN.

Currently, more than 10,000 people in Taiwan are waiting for organ transplants, with only 800 taking place during the past three years, partly influenced by the COVID pandemic, which restricted non-emergency medical services. Still, the number of organ transplants is considered very low due to government regulations.

Shih said expanding organ donation to include adults not related, where the donor would not be harmed due to the donation will clear the way for more transplants involving kidneys, livers, and lungs. Among this group, kidneys are the most likely to see an increase in donations.

Medical analysis of kidney donation has shown that a kidney donor's quality of life is only minimally affected after making a donation, with recipients benefiting tremendously. Currently, 8,684 patients are waiting in line for kidney transplants, though over the past ten years, the number of living kidney donations has averaged only around 100 each year in Taiwan.

Shih said that Taiwan’s kidney transplant rate is extremely low, mainly due to the supply of kidneys, with many transplants sourced from cadaver kidneys. To improve the situation, medical experts have proposed amending the Organ Transplant Act.

"If we want to broaden the scope of donors, we must amend the law," said Shih. He added that any change to the law comes with debate, as the previous amendment allowing organ donation amongst spouses stirred worries about "fake marriages.”

For this reason, special requirements were put in place, requiring spouses to be married for more than two years or have given birth to a child. Shih believes that a similar debate will involve opening up organ donation among consenting adults, with some worrying about buying and selling organs. For this, social consensus must be needed to better improve the culture of organ donation.