New Delhi: With the aim of increasing the incidence of organ donation in India, the ministry of health and family welfare is considering the inclusion of stepparents, step-siblings and extended family members in the definition of “near relatives" in the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act, 1994, in a bid to discourage organ trading while ensuring that patients find donors.

The move comes after the health ministry received scores of grievances concerning the Act, apart from requests for organs due to non-availability of “near relative" donors or blood group mismatches with near relatives.

Parallelly, incidents of organ trading have also become a cause of concern for the government.

“In recent times there have been increased incidents of organ trading. This can also be attributed to mismatch between supply and demand of organs. In light of the same, the government is considering to expand the definition of “near relative" by including stepfather, stepmother; stepbrother, stepsister, stepson, stepdaughter and their spouses; spouses of sons and daughters of recipient; brothers and sisters of recipient’s spouse and their spouses; brothers and sisters of recipient’s parents and their spouses; first cousins (having common grandparents) of the recipient and their spouses," said Sunil Kumar, under secretary at the health ministry.

The Act was enacted in 1994 with the objective of regulation of removal, storage and transplantation of human organs for therapeutic purposes and for the prevention of commercial dealings in human organs. The “near relative" who could legally donate organs was initially defined as spouse, son, daughter, father, mother, brother and sister.

The Act was further amended in 2011, wherein the definition of “near relative" was expanded to include grandfather, grandmother, grandson and granddaughter, but the revision didn’t significantly help increase availability of organs for terminally ill patients.

“During the course of time, it has been observed that the expansion of definition of near relatives to grandparents and grandchildren has not led to any significant increase in availability of living donors as grandparents are either too old to donate or can’t donate due to some adverse medical condition, and grandchildren are usually too young to donate organs. Thus demand for organs outweighs their supply. Including extended family and step relatives would help in increasing pool of organs," he said.

According to the health ministry, about 500,000 people die every year in India because of non-availability of organs, 200,000 people die due to liver disease, and 50,000 people die of heart disease. Moreover, 150,000 people await a kidney transplant but only about 5,000 get them in a year. The health ministry, through various campaigns, has been urging people from all communities to come forth and generously donate organs to help save lives.