Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How to fight organ shortages and "transplant tourism"

From the European Parliament:

Reducing the organ and donor shortage is “the main challenge that EU Member States face with regard to organ transplantation”, said the Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on Wednesday. MEPs propose a wide range of measures, including a European donor card, to tackle problems like organ shortage, transplantation risks and organ trafficking.

Although the use of human organs for transplantation has steadily increased in recent years across the EU, the number of people requiring a transplant is still greater than the number of organs available for transplant. The own-initiative report drafted by Adamos Adamou (GUE/NGL, CY) recalls that currently many thousands of patients in Europe are registered on waiting lists, which have a significant mortality rate

Organ donation has to remain “strictly non-commercial”
The committee stresses that organ donation must stay “strictly non-commercial” and should be made altruistically and voluntarily, ruling out payments between donors and recipients. Compensation should be possible only to make good expenses and inconveniences related to the donation. “Any commercial exploitation of organs is unethical and inconsistent with the most basic human values”, and organ donation out of financial motivation “degrades the gift of an organ to a mere commodity which constitutes a violation of human dignity”, say MEPs.

Prevent organ trafficking and "transplant tourism"
The report stresses that “organ trafficking undermines the credibility of the system for potential voluntary and unpaid donors”. The Commission and Member States are asked to take measures to prevent "transplant tourism", including drawing up guidelines to protect the poorest and most vulnerable donors from being victims of organ trafficking and adopting measures that increase the availability of legally procured organs . Moreover, Member States should take the necessary measures to prevent insurance companies reimbursing costs incurred in obtaining illegal organ transplantation.

A European donor card
The committee proposes to introduce a European donor card, complementary to existing national systems. MEPs also note that those who are not suitable donors should be encouraged to carry a card to that effect as well in order to facilitate a swift identification of organs. Additionally, Member States should make it possible to appoint a legal representative who can decide on donation after one's death, states the report.

Organ sharing and new biotechnology to tackle organ shortage
Establishing well-structured operational systems and promoting successful models in and between Member States and at international level is of “utmost importance” to fight organ shortage more effectively, say MEPs. They call on the Commission to promote research in biotechnology which, in the future, “may offer the possibility for researchers to grow organs from existing tissues and cells, either from the patients themselves or from other tissue donors”.

MEPs support reinforced cooperation between Member States leading to increased organ sharing between EU Member States. In particular small Member States with a limited donor pool could clearly benefit from European co-operation, says the report. The Commission should, therefore, facilitate alliances between national transplantation organisations in Member States.

Transplant hotline for better information
Committee members stress that “a very effective way of increasing organ availability is to provide more information to the public”. They propose establishing a transplant "hotline" with a single telephone number managed by a national transplantation organisation and manned 24 hours/day, which can rapidly provide relevant and accurate information.

Reduce transplant risks
Finally, MEPs recognise that it is “vitally important to improve the quality and safety of organ donation and transplantation” to reduce transplant risks. Hence, the committee looks forward to the Commission’s proposal for a directive setting requirements to assure the quality and safety for organ donation across the EU. However, the forthcoming legislative framework should not create an additional administrative burden nor should it jeopardise the use of existing good practices or lead to a decrease in the number of potential and actual donors, stress MEPs.

The report was adopted by 60 votes in favour with one member abstaining -- Procedure: own-initiative -- Plenary vote: April II in Strasbourg

Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
In the chair : Miroslav Ouzký (EPP-ED, CZ)

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