Organ donations may not remain just a family affair for much longer

Currently insurance companies do not offer health insurance to organ donors,
Currently insurance companies do not offer health insurance to organ donors,


  • Organ swap among near relatives is already permitted in law. Now, the government is discussing with NGOs, states, transplant surgeons and legal experts to decide if those from different families should also be allowed to donate to each other

There may be relief at hand for those in the long-winded queue for organ transplants, with the Union government planning to open up organ exchange between unrelated individuals.

Currently, most organ donations happen within families; however, two blood groups often do not match, and the patient has to wait indefinitely for availability. Now, the health ministry is planning to allow one family to exchange with another if there is a match. Plans are also afoot to allow health insurance for donors, fix legal loopholes and facilitate organ harvesting from the deceased, a government official aware of the plans said.

The move assumes significance given that as per health ministry data, India conducts only 6,000 kidney transplants every year against a requirement of about 200,000. Heart transplant rates are even worse -- about 10 to 15 transplants every year, even as 50,000 persons die of heart failures. Similarly, an estimated 200,000 Indians die of liver failure or liver cancer annually, about 10-15% of which can be saved with a timely transplant.

Also read: Worried over low organ donation rate, health ministry instructs states to monitor brain-dead cases

The health ministry has kicked off virtual brainstorming sessions with subject experts who will present their findings during the so-called Chintan Shivar, the official cited above said on condition of anonymity. Non-government organizations, state government officials, transplant surgeons and legal experts are among those attending the 10 sessions, the official said.

“We are also in discussions with the insurance regulator to make provision for health insurance for organ donors. Right now, these insurance companies do not offer health insurance to such individuals," the official added.

Queries sent to the health ministry spokesperson remained unanswered till press time.

Swaps among close relatives such as mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister and spouse are already permitted in law. “However, we are getting demands for other-than near relative donors to be given permission for swap donations," the official said, adding all these issues will be discussed at the Chintan Shivar. All transplants in India have to be mandatorily approved by an official authorization committee.

Also read: Why organ donation should be part of your estate plan

Dr. Anup Kumar, head of urology and kidney transplant department at Delhi's Safdarjung hospital said, “Near relatives are first-degree family members who are approved as per law for organ donation, and other-than near relatives like friends or any other family are not permitted in law for organ donation. A special committee is constituted to look after this, which is still not allowed for swap donations. If this provision is allowed, we will be able to increase the pool of donors, fill the gaps between donors and recipients, and organ donors will be able to give to some other family and hence complication and cost will be less, and results will be better." Health coverage for organ donors is a good move, he added.

Deceased donors involve cases such as a brain stem death e.g. a victim of a road accident where the brain stem is dead and the person cannot breathe on his own but can be kept alive by using ventilator and fluids to keep the heart and other organs working. Another type of a deceased donor could be a donor after cardiac death.

Dr H. Jauhari, chairman of kidney transplant surgery department at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said, “Organ donation among other-than near related donor is not considered a legal transplant. I would call it as “paired exchange". So far, near relatives were able to donate organs. When you start bringing other-than near relatives, you have to be very very cautious, and we have to plug all the loopholes. Additionally, health insurance should be must for donor who is undergoing a major surgery just like the recipient, and is an uphill task for the family in terms of finance & mental pressure."

On agenda


Swaps among those who are not related

Health insurance for organ donors

Fixing legal loopholes

Matching among several participants at one go

Streamlining authorization committee

Criteria to declare brain stem death

Community participation

Leveraging technology

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