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Guidelines covering aid and financial assistance to struggling families of deceased organ donors are set to be issued, said Hao Linna, vice-president of the Red Cross Society of China.
Designed to allay fears of "rewards" for donations, the guidelines will be issued soon by the Red Cross and the Ministry of Health, Hao told China Daily on Thursday.
The guidelines provide a policy framework to alleviate doubts caused by any concerns of financial rewards concerning donations and putting undue pressure on potential donors, she said.
Funding to match the guidelines will be established at a provincial level, with government support and offerings from the general public.
"The aid will take various forms, like exemption of medical bills or funeral expenses, and economic support for families in need," she explained.
"But there won't be a uniform standard due to the vast territory and the different economic and social development of the regions," she said.
The financial situation of the donor's family will be taken into account, she said.
Any aid can only be delivered upon application by donor families after verification, said Wang Ping, director of the society's relief and health department.
The application can only be made after the donation. This is to rule out any reward or precondition to lure someone to make a donation, he said.
"The exact aid package will vary regionally according to the local economic situation," he noted.
"These guiding principles will distinguish our humanitarian aid from the 'organ trade'," Wang said.
Shen Weixing, a law expert with Tsinghua University, supported the initiative.
Given the current inadequate social welfare coverage in the country, "humanitarian aid for donor families is justified but the use of the fund has to be carefully managed and supervised, probably by a third party," he said.
Figures from the society showed that 206 people on the mainland have donated 543 organs after suffering fatal heart attacks since the pilot project was introduced in 2010.
According to Hao Linna, many of the donors were from underprivileged rural families and many filed applications for financial aid.
"The financial help we extended was to make sure that the donation would not further aggravate the family's economic condition and under no circumstances could it be described as a trade," Deputy Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said.
"But the process definitely has to be open and transparent to gain public trust."
Francis Delmonico, president elect of the Transplantation Society, however, thought otherwise.
"We cannot count on the organ donation system to fix social ills like the inadequate welfare system," he said.
But he voiced strong support for the voluntary deceased organ donation system launched in 2010.
According to Huang, given the strained doctor-patient relations, the Red Cross was introduced to ensure fairness and transparency.
"Once the project, now operating in 16 regions, goes nationwide it can help substantially relieve the severe shortage of organs," Huang said.
Official statistics revealed that each year only 10,000 out of 1.5 million patients on the mainland who needed transplants received one.
According to Hao, the revised version of China's organ transplant regulation, which was first issued in 2007, will be issued before June.
In the new version, the responsibilities of the society will include donation promotion, donor registry, witnessing organ donations and allocation, and donor family support.
Also, a clause suggesting that citizens donate organs after death will be included, he said.