DECEASED organ donation needs to become part of the national discourse. To that end, our lawmakers must adopt a far more proactive and enterprising approach, and co-opt celebrities from the world of entertainment, culture, sports, etc. They too must be at the forefront of signing up as potential donors. The legislation supporting cadaveric donation can also be improved to facilitate this act of altruism. On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Upper House moved to do precisely that when the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination unanimously passed the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The proposed legislation seeks to amend the existing organ transplantation law to include the provision that Nadra will ask CNIC applicants whether they wish to donate their organs after death. If they respond in the affirmative, a red mark will be added to their CNICs which will indicate the individual’s commitment to the relevant authorities. If it transpires that he/she suffers brain death following an illness or accident and is placed on the ventilator, it may be possible for their organs to give someone else a new lease of life. The bill has been referred to the Senate for voting after which it will be transmitted to the National Assembly for its assent. If enacted, the law will only be applicable to the Islamabad Capital Territory, but it could act as a catalyst for the provinces to follow suit.

For a philanthropic people, it is strange that Pakistanis should be so resistant to the practice of cadaveric organ donation. That is despite the fact that organ failure kills around 50,000 of them each year; at least some of these lives could have been saved had there been a robust deceased organ donation programme in the country. However, there have only been a handful of cadaveric transplants because of a dearth of donors. The notion still has a certain stigma attached to it, even though premier religious authorities have endorsed the procedure and many Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, are performing deceased organ transplantation. While the proposed law passed by the Senate committee is important, the fact is that upon the death of a potential donor, even if all the medical criteria for his or her organs to be donated are met, families often override the individual’s wishes. Legislation must therefore be accompanied by a sustained awareness campaign to be truly effective.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021

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