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Organ transplants: High Court demands answer

Organ transplants ruling: <em><strong>The Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh. Image credit. Harvinder Chandigarh [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]</strong></em>
The Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh. Image credit. Harvinder Chandigarh [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]
Northern states are under pressure from a High Court to implement organ transplant reforms.

A ruling by the Punjab and Haryana High Court directs the state governments of Haryana and Punjab and the Union Government of their shared capital Chandigarh to respond to recommendations made by a nine-member panel made up of Chandigarh-based Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) doctors, concerning organ transplants. The recommendations include

  • Making it mandatory for intensive care units (CUs) to provide daily information on potential organ donors
  • Employment of grief counsellors and transplant coordinators and establishment of a committee to certify brain death in every district, as well as district-level organ donation coordination offices in civil surgeons’ offices
  • Ensuring that such bodies provide continuous services and facilitate the safe transport of donors to retrieval or transplant centres
  • Creation of an ID number-based, centralised voluntary organ donor registry to enable donations from those who express willingness during their lifetimes to donate their organs
  • Involvement of NGOs and faith-based groups to raise awareness of the positive aspects of organ donation

The panel was established at the direction of the High Court in March to enable effective implementation of laws related to organ transplants in the areas under PGIMER’s ambit. At the time, the High Court noted that waiting times in Haryana and Punjab exceeded five years in many cases, with multiple patients in need dying because of the lack of an available organ. The High Court had earlier proposed using unclaimed bodies to perform organ transplants as well as medical research as a means of addressing shortages.

Recent months have seen a number of concerning cases, such as that of the finding that more than 100 viable organs are wasted in Punjab hospitals every day because of a lack of specialist doctors to allow the organ transplants to occur. The recommendations could go some way towards ameliorating the problems, with the proposals potentially lending themselves to streamline the process and increase the availability of donated organs and tissue.

Shortages of organ donors is a national problem. As Health Issues India has previously reported, in the example of kidney transplants alone, just 5,000 transplants take place in India yearly compared to the need of between one and two lakh operations. A mere 12,000 organ donors are available, while 1.6 lakh patients languish on the transplant list.

Such is the magnitude of the crisis that a black market thrives on the side, preying on economically vulnerable individuals and paying them to donate their kidneys. To address this, government campaigns have been started to encourage doctors to ask their patients if they would consider donating. Organ donation drives have been witnessed in Kerala; campaigns have been initiated by outlets such as the Times of India; and activists such as the Give the Gift of Life Foundation have taken to the road to encourage organ donation.

It is encouraging that India’s courts are taking note of the crisis. The need now is for policymakers and governors to do the same. The suffering of those in need of donated organs is a crisis which largely happens invisibly. With steps to increase visibility and enhance accountability being undertaken, now one can hope for results.

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