The Hong Kong government has alleged that a small group of people filed applications to withdraw from the Centralised Organ Donation Register (CODR) with an aim of “disrupting the representativeness” of the system.

Organ Donation Centralised Organ Donation Register
Centralised Organ Donation Register. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The remark came after the city’s health authorities received more than 5,700 withdrawal applications over a five-month period, more than half of which were later declared invalid.

The city’s opt-in system for organ donation, which has more than 357,000 registrants at present, had seen “abnormalities” in the number of withdrawals filed online recently, the government said in a statement issued on Monday.

According to the statement, a total of 5,793 withdrawal applications were made via the register’s website between December last year and April, “significantly higher” than previously recorded. Among them, 2,907 requests were said to be invalid, as the applicants had never opted in to the centralised register, or had made repeated attempts to withdraw.

In February alone, the percentage of invalid withdrawal submissions stood at 74 per cent, the statement read.

“It cannot be ruled out that a small number of people have intentionally made withdrawal attempts with the aim of disrupting the representativeness of the CODR and increasing the administrative burden on government personnel,” a spokesman for the government said.

“The HKSAR Government strongly condemns such utterly irresponsible behaviour,” they added.

The government said Monday’s statement was in response to recent public interest in the cross-boundary organ transplant mutual assistance mechanism between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau proposed integrating the hospitals in Hong Kong into the China Organ Transplant Response System.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau meeting the press on December 13, 2022
Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The suggestion came after a four-month-old Hong Kong girl suffering from heart failure underwent a transplant in December with an organ donated and delivered across the border. The heart was allocated to the infant after it could not be matched with those waiting for a transplant in the mainland.

Earlier this month, the health minister said the authorities were discussing the possibility of allotting organs with no local match to mainland Chinese patients. Such an arrangement would not affect the allocation of organs in Hong Kong, he said, while the proposed mechanism would serve as a “second layer” of donation to benefit more patients.

Ming Pao reported in early May that some Hongkongers had posted on social media expressing their reluctance to donate organs to the mainland. Some said they withdrew from the centralised register as a result, while some called on others to cancel their registration.

Such appeals were “extremely irresponsible” and “truly went against the spirit of selfless love in organ donation,” the Health Bureau told Ming Pao at the time. Those individuals “distorted” the development and allocation system of organ donation in the mainland, the government added.

“Some individuals also wantonly vilify the constructive significance of the proposed establishment of a standing mutual assistance mechanism for transplant by the two places, undoubtedly despising the inseparable ties between citizens of Hong Kong and the Mainland,” the government statement read.

As of March 31, close to 3,000 patients in Hong Kong were waiting for organ transplantation under the Hospital Authority, according to figures provided by the statutory body management public hospitals in the city. Among them, more than 2,430 people were waiting for kidney donation.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.