The government has said it will launch a consultation soon on whether to lower the minimum age for organ donation to 17.

A debate was sparked by the case of Tang Kwai-sze, 43, who has been suffering from acute liver failure and was in need of a liver donation. Her own daughter Michelle was 17 years and nine months old and could not donate even though she wished to. An unrelated donor was eventually found on Thursday.

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

The Human Organ Transplant Ordinance states donors must be at least 18 years old.

The health secretary Ko Wing-man said the law was to protect underage people and there was no flexibility, but the government will consider a review.

“For example, flexibility for people under 18 could be allowed, in that the clinical team could assess whether the person is a suitable donor, psychologically mature and in a suitable physical state – to allow the Human Organ Transplant Board some discretionary power in their consideration,” he said.

“We will look at international laws.” Ko said.

Dennis Kwok Wing-hang
Dennis Kwok Wing-hang. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

Urgent action bill

Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang had drafted an urgent bill to temporarily lower the donation age to 17 on Wednesday night for Michelle to give her liver to her mother.

It was supported by all parties and it could have been passed on Thursday by the Legislative Council, with President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen specially waiving the usual notice period needed. The bill, if passed, would only have been applicable until May 1.

“In fact, this so-called Plan B has a lot of issues that we may not know yet, but we just want to help save lives,” Kwok said. He thanked all parties for supporting the initiative.

On Thursday, there was a surprise announcement from the hospital that a 26-year-old clerk Ms Cheng, unrelated to the patient, had donated parts of her liver. Michelle’s donation and the urgent bill were not ultimately required.

“We need to thank Ms Cheng the most who made the selfless act,” Kwok said.

An organ donation card.
An organ donation card. File

Legal matter

Gene Tsoi Wai-wang, a doctor and a member of the official Human Organ Transplant Board, also said the issue of lowering the limit on donation age was a legal matter, rather than a medical matter.

“The board has a neutral view; we do things in accordance with the rights given by the law. The law was written I think some 20 years ago,” he said on a RTHK programme on Friday.

“At the time it was simple; the legal sector said the age you can get an identity card was the age that you can make your own decision, like if you have to undergo an operation, you need your parents’ agreement before 18.”

“But why did they not think about flexibility? Perhaps they were worried about risks of live donation from unrelated people, and that it could create an organ exchange market if the law was too loose.”

Tsoi said the age limit for donation could be lowered to 17, but people at 15 or 16 were too young to donate organs, as it was difficult to know how a donation would affect their health.

Queen Mary Hospital
Queen Mary Hospital. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Stable after operation

Kelvin Ng Kwok-chai, a liver transplant expert at the University of Hong Kong, joined the operation to save Tang at Queen Mary Hospital.

He said it was successful and went smoothly. The patient was stable, but she should remain in intensive care for a few days. Ng said Ms Cheng had woken up.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.