Controversial kidney transplants expose hole in regulation

Updated: 2008-01-13 08:42

BEIJING - Two recent kidney transplant operations have caused Chinese medical experts, lawmakers and ethics advocates to call for a reexamination of the country's human organ transplant regulations.

Less than a month ago, He Yiwen, a 17-year-old girl, and He Zhigang, a 39-year-old man, both from Changde City in central Hunan Province, did not know each other. But they were both suffering from deadly uremia and badly in need of a lifesaving kidney transplant.

They both failed to find suitable kidney matches among their relatives but by chance their blood samples were both sent to the Second Affiliated Hospital of the Guangzhou Medical College, who realized the blood of He Yiwen's father was a good match for He Zhigang, whose cousin was a match for He Yiwen.

The hospital proposed a "cross renal transplant" which required the two families to exchange donors.

However, there was a problem. The country's regulation on human organ transplants, which took effect on May 1 last year, states: "Recipients of living organs are only limited to donors' spouses, blood relatives, or people who have proven a close relationship with the donors."

The proposal was vetoed by the ethics committee, which cited the transplant regulation and said the operations were illegal as the two families were genetically unrelated.

Fortunately for the two patients, a hospital in the southern island of Hainan stepped forward.

On January 7, the Hainan Agricultural Cultivation Bureau Hospital, the only medical institution in the province permitted to carry out organ transplants, successfully performed the two transplants, each lasting nearly ten hours.

Before the operations, the hospital received consent from its ethics council.

Zhou Xiaohua, director of the Changde Kidney Disease Association, who followed the development of the case, said the Hainan hospital's ethics committee had agreed to the operations based on the files submitted by the two families.

The files made clear "details of how the two parties helped each other and had established a close relationship".

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