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Kidney ops spark fierce debate over transplants
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Two recent kidney transplant operations have caused Chinese medical experts, lawmakers and ethics advocates to call for a re-examination of the country's 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 both suffered from deadly uremia and needed lifesaving kidney transplants.

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 hospital's 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, and successfully performed the two transplants.

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." Zhou said the transplants were aimed at saving lives, which was in line with the law as no organ trade was involved.

"The Guangzhou hospital was not at fault either because it vetoed the operations based on the regulation, and the hospital returned the 24,000-yuan (US$3,288) hospitalization fees to the two families," Zhou said.

The incident triggered heated debate on the choice between law-abiding and life-saving.

The Website surveyed 7,972 Netizens, of whom 7,570 voiced their support of the Hainan hospital, saying: "Is there anything more important than saving lives?"

But 211 said that if such transplants are legalized, organ dealers could easily dodge the law by forging nonexistent "close relations."

Chen Yun, of the provincial health department of Hainan, said there was a lack of detail in the regulation on how to judge a donor's "close relationship" with recipients.

(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2008)

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