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Have a heart, get a law on kidney transplant

Over 1.5 lakh people suffer end-stage kidney failure in India each year and need a transplant, but barely 3,500 find donors. And yet, attempts to amend the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 were delayed for months and finally stonewalled on technical grounds by the Department of Legal Affairs last month. Sanchita Sharma reports.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 02, 2009 00:43 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Over 1.5 lakh people suffer end-stage kidney failure in India each year and need a transplant, but barely 3,500 find donors. And yet, attempts to amend the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 — to check the black market for kidneys by making legal donations transparent — were delayed for months and finally stonewalled on technical grounds by the Department of Legal Affairs last month.

Result: The draft amendment bill wasn’t ready to be tabled in Parliament in its last session. The delay has condemned lakhs to death and thousands to dialysis, which costs at least Rs 10,000 a month.

“Each year, 1.4 lakh die waiting for a kidney and these amendments... are needed urgently. Each day costs lives,” said Dr Harsh Jauhri, chairperson, department of renal transplant, Ganga Ram Hospital.

Since the draft amendment bill was sent to the Law Ministry in June 2008, the Health Ministry had hoped to table it in the winter or last session. “The department of legal affairs okayed it and sent it to the Department Of Legislative Affairs, which ensures established legal language is used. Legal Affairs sent it back to us on January 29, saying the amendments needed resolutions passed by three states — Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra — because the 1994 law was based on resolutions passed by these states,” said a health ministry official, who didn’t want to be named.

“If the resolutions were a problem, the Department Of Legislative Affairs should’ve told us last year... Introducing the Bill in Rajya Sabha would have ensured it doesn’t lapse. With a change in government, we may even have to go through the whole process again,” the bureaucrat said.

The draft amendments are based on the Report Of Transplantation of Human Organs Act Review Committee, set up under a Delhi High Court order to review the transplantation Act and rules and chaired by election commissioner SY Quraishi.

To prevent trafficking, the Act allows transplantations only in hospitals registered with the government and live transplants only from near-relatives. Cadaver and altruistic donations are allowed only after a screening by an authorisation panel.