The government should look into the possibility of “opt-out” organ donation, the city’s medical professionals have said. The debate follows the passing of 19-year-old Jamella Lo last week, who had been in need of a double-lung transplant.

Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said on Friday that Lo’s doctors had made multiple calls for organ donations, but there had been no suitable fit for her. Hong Kong’s organ donation rate is consistently low with around 2,000 patients at a time waiting for organ transplants, Apple Daily reported.

jamella lo
19-year-old Jamella Lo.

Hospital Authority Director of Cluster Services Dr Cheung Wai-lun also expressed his sympathies on Sunday with regards to Lo’s passing. According to Cheung, 170,000 people register to become donors every year but, even if people were willing to donate their organs after their death, around 40 to 50 percent of family members do not support the decision. There are only 45 to 50 successful transplants each year.

Most registered donors are young people – around 65 percent have not informed their families of their decision, RTHK reported.

File Photo. Photo: Gov HK.
File Photo: Ko Wing-man. Photo: Gov HK.

Cheung said that the problem of organ donation was not technical but societal. He also said that society should discuss the issue of organ donation, including whether to implement opt-out donation, as has been done in some overseas countries.

Hong Kong Society of Transplantation Council President Chak Wai-leung echoed Cheung’s view that Hong Kong should consider opt-out organ donation, a practice that would turn organ donation into a civic responsibility. Chak  said in an interview with DBC that in comparison with Spain, where there was one allocated organ donation staff member in every hospital, there were only nine organ donation staff coordinating around 30 to 40 hospitals in Hong Kong, which was highly insufficient.

Jamella Lo, who was in need of a double-lung transplant, passed away from a lung infection last Wednesday after more than two weeks of waiting for a donation.

Last month, a liver failure patient who had been in a critical condition after a botched liver transplant had a successful second operation. The first transplant was interrupted midway when the organ donor was posthumously found to have cancer.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.