Health officials and experts have appealed for public support for organ donation following a sharp increase in the number of requests to withdraw from the programme.
“I hope the wave of withdrawal is only temporary. I would like to appeal to the public not to withdraw from the organ donation programme, because there are over 2,000 patients awaiting organ transplants every day,” Acting Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said Saturday.
The appeal came after the Department of Health disclosed that 247 registered organ donors asked to be delisted within six days between May 6 and 11 – a drastic increase compared to only 70 such requests over a 21-day period between April 15 and May 5.
In addition, the department told HKFP that it received 33, 28 and 36 withdrawal requests in January, February and March respectively.
It said it will complete the delisting procedure after verifying the identity of the applicants.
Organ transplant expert Lo Chung-mau, who heads the Liver Transplant Centre of Queen Mary Hospital, expressed disappointment on Sunday at the hike in withdrawal requests.
Describing organ donation as a “noble” act, the doctor said: “We should not punish people awaiting organ transplants just because of an error committed by medical staff.”
Lo was referring to a recent medical blunder at United Christian Hospital. The institution apologised last Tuesday on behalf of its doctors, who failed to issue the necessary medicine to a patient.
The patient, 43-year-old Tang Kwai-sze, made headlines last month after receiving transplants to save her from acute liver failure. She remains in intensive care after her lungs developed a fungal infection after the surgery.
Tang first sought medical help for kidney issues. United Christian Hospital said last week that two specialist doctors failed to issue the antiviral drugs necessary to prevent liver complications when treating her kidney problems.
The hospital discovered the matter early last month and notified Tang’s family in mid-April. It said the 18-day delay in disclosing the incident to the public was partly because one of the specialised doctors was on vacation.
The doctors involved have not been suspended. Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man expressed “regret” over the hospital’s mistake.
But doctor Seamus Siu Yuk-leung, chair of Frontline Doctors’ Union, slammed the hospital for its “unacceptable” explanation.
“Even if you are on vacation – unless you went to the North Pole – in cases of serious medical incidents, I believe there must be ways to reach you, such as with satellite phones in very remote places,” Siu said on Sunday.
He added that many doctors were upset by the wave of withdrawals from the organ donation programme. “Everyone loses,” he said.
Sophia Chan, the senior health official, asked the public not to associate the medical incident with organ donation.
The government plans to roll out a public consultation on organ donation within two months. Members of the public will be invited to comment on proposals such as presumed consent and lowering the age limit for organ donation.
Asked if she is worried that the consultation will see a backlash owing to the recent controversy, Chan said the government believes that Hong Kong people are rational.
Last month, Ko Wing-man said the total number of registered organ donors exceeded 250,000 – an increase of more than 50,000 since last year.