Abu Dhabi: A law allowing organ transplantation from living people and the deceased was passed, providing huge relief to patients on organ donation waiting lists across the country.
The organ transplant law decreed by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan last month will take effect from March, six months after publishing in the official gazette.
“The new law regulates transplantation of human organs and tissues, which saves many lives and restores essential functions for many otherwise untreatable patients,” Dr Ameen Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Health and Prevention for Public Health Policy and Licensing, told Gulf News on Wednedsay.
Dr Al Amiri added the law provides a clear definition of death — in keeping with fatwas (Islamic rulings) given by the councils of senior scholars in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and other Islamic nations.
The law prohibits the sale of human organs and tissues or other body parts in any way for the purpose of transplantation.
It also bans unlicensed advertising of transplantation of human organs, tissues and body parts.
The laws bars funding transplantation of human organs, tissues and body parts if these organs are sold.
The findings of a national survey on organ transplant presented at a forum held at the Mohammad Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) in April showed that there are over 2,000 kidney patients on dialysis in the UAE on a waiting list for kidney transplants alone.
The UAE-based survey, titled ‘The National Survey on Organ Donation and Transplant’, conducted by MBRU, included 500 respondents comprising citizens and expatriates above 18 years of age.
The survey was conducted to study public awareness, beliefs and attitudes towards organ donation and to see if people were attuned to this idea.
Nearly 68 per cent of the respondents said they were ready to donate in the event they became brain-dead, which shows that the country is ready for deceased organ transplantation.
Organs that can be transplanted are the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestine, and thymus. Tissues include bones, tendons, cornea, skin, heart valves, nerves and veins.
Worldwide, kidneys are the most commonly transplanted organs, followed by the liver and then the heart. Cornea and musculoskeletal grafts are the most commonly transplanted tissues; these outnumber organ transplants by more than tenfold.
Under the law, donation of organs and tissues can only be made by a legally competent person. “Donation by living donors is restricted to relatives within the fourth degree and couples married for at least two years.”
The law, however, permits donation of bone marrow from minors or legally incompetent persons, provided that the marrow is transplanted in parents, siblings or children of the donor. Written consent from the donor’s guardian is required in this case.
People can record their decision about becoming an organ and tissue donor for transplantation after death on the Emirates Identity Card or any other documents. They can also unconditionally backtrack on their decision at any time.
Consent of a resident relative of the donor who died but did not register his/her wish to donate organ or tissue is required.
No organ or tissue can be removed from the deceased in the case of clear rejection of the same while a person is alive.
A donor may change his/her mind before removing an organ, a part of it or a tissue, but may not recover a donated organ once it is removed in accordance with this law.
The identity of both the donor and recipient must remain confidential by law.
Safeguards against fraud
Surgeons who extract organs or tissues by force or fraud will face life imprisonment and at least a Dh20 million fine if the surgery leads to the death or complete disability of the person whose organ or tissue is removed.
The court may also order blacklisting an offending medical practitioner for up to three years, confiscating money and medical equipment used in the crime and shutting down the hospital or a ward of it where the crime is committed for not less than two months and not more than a year.
The closure will be for good in the case of recurrence.
The penalty will be a prison term of not less than five years and not more than seven years, a fine ranging from Dh500,000 to Dh3 million for businesses which trade or act as an intermediary in selling of an organ or tissue.
A person who sells, buys, offers for sale or acts as an intermediary in selling a human organ or tissue will face a prison term and a fine ranging from Dh30,000 to Dh100,000.
Doctors performing organ or tissue transplantation while knowing the surgery involves commercial trade of organs or tissues will face a prison term of not less than six months, a fine of up to Dh1 million, or both.
Performing transplantation of organ or tissues outside licensed hospitals will carry a prison term of not less than a year, a fine of not less than Dh1 million or both.
Disclosing the identity of the donor or the recipient will incur a prison term of not less than six months, a fine of up to Dh50,000 or both.
A pardon may be granted to people who inform authorities before committing the crime. The court may also grant pardon if the crime is reported to the authorities before investigation starts. The penalties may be commuted if offenders facilitate arresting accomplices during investigation or trial.
The Cabinet will set up a national centre for preservation and transplantation of organs and tissues.
Committees at the national centre will study cases of patients who need organ or tissue transplant and submit recommendations.
This law annuls Federal Law No 15 of 1993 concerning human organ transplantation.
Hospitals must adjust their legal status within a year from March next year. The grace period may be extended for a similar period by the Cabinet on request from the Minister of Health and Prevention.