Enabling foreigners to become organ donors

Every year Czech clinics perform hundreds of life-saving organ transplants. Unfortunately many seriously ill patients wait in vain for the call to say that a suitable donor has been found. In an effort to increase the number of donors the Czech Health Ministry is now drafting an amendment to the law which would allow foreigners to become organ donors as well.

Last year the country’s seven specialized transplant clinics performed close to 600 life-saving transplants. While their capacity to perform cardio, liver, kidney, lung and bone marrow transplants is bigger, they are restricted by the number of donors –particularly in cases of vital organ transplants from dead donors. Přemysl Frýda from the Czech Coordination Centre for Transplants explains the current practice in the Czech Republic.

“The Czech Republic is in the group of countries with an opt-out system, meaning that everyone is automatically considered a donor unless he or she signs a statement and asks to be registered in a register of persons who reject donation of organs for transplantation. On the other hand even people who reject donations are authorized to receive an organ in case of need.”

So do you contact relatives and family at all? Or do you automatically take a dead person’s organs if they have not specifically stated they do not wish to be donors?

“Relatives are always contacted. Although the law only requires that they be informed about the possibility that the deceased person’s organs may be used, in reality doctors always respect the wishes of the family.”

Last year 67 patients in need of a transplant died because of the lack of a suitable donor. Currently there are 900 people on the waiting list for organs in the Czech Republic – and it is almost certain that some of them will wait in vain. In recent years the number of donated organs has always been far below the actual need. In an effort to save every life possible the health authorities are proposing an amendment to the law which would make it possible for foreigners who die on Czech soil to become donors as well. Přemysl Frýda again:

“The current law does not permit us to procure organs from foreigners –even though they wish to donate organs, even though they are holders of donor cards, even if their relatives agree with it. We are simply not allowed to do that, but we are now working on an amendment to the law and we hope that it will be approved sometime next year – allowing us to use the organs of foreigners who die on Czech territory for transplantation purposes just as it works elsewhere in Europe.”

How would this work in practice?

“We would have a mechanism in place to get in touch with the person’s family and if the family is unreachable, then we would contact the respective embassy or consulate and check whether these people are registered donors or in the case of countries with an opt-out system such as ours if they have rejected organ donation.”

The need to find organ donors for life-saving operations is common to all European states and despite a fast and effective network in place which helps find suitable organs from abroad – for many people help fails to come in time. At present there are 60,000 people on the continent waiting for a transplant –and every day 12 loose the fight for survival.