Spike in organ transplants after 2009 amendment to law

Follow heart transplant recipient Serene Lee's journey to Penang to meet the parents of her heart donor, Carmen Mark, for the first time since the 18-year-old's death in 2015. Please turn up the volume to watch this video.
Heart transplant recipient Serene Lee with two of her children - Jasher (right), 14, and Jazaree, seven. Her emotional meeting with her donor's parents, covered by the media, tugged at the heartstrings of many.
Heart transplant recipient Serene Lee with two of her children - Jasher (right), 14, and Jazaree, seven. Her emotional meeting with her donor's parents, covered by the media, tugged at the heartstrings of many.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

More people have got a new lease of life ever since a law was amended in 2009 to make organ donation compulsory for all adult Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Some 1,575 transplants were performed between then and June this year under the opt-out Human Organ Transplant Act (Hota).

This works out to an average of 196 kidney, liver, heart or cornea transplants a year - a vast increase compared with when organ donation was still voluntary.

Between 1970 and 1987, when Hota was enacted, only about five patients got a new kidney every year. A total of 86 kidney transplants were performed during that period, figures from the National Organ Transplant Unit show.

The figures highlight the importance of organ donation in changing patients' lives. But it was the recent reunion between a heart recipient and a donor's parents that drove the message home.

Singaporean Serene Lee, 37, on Friday met the parents of the donor of her heart, nursing student Carmen Mark, 18. Carmen died in 2015 after suffering from an arterial rupture in her brain.

The emotional meeting, widely reported by the media, tugged at the heartstrings of many who applauded Carmen's Malaysian father, Mr Mark Kok Wah, 46, for allowing his daughter's organs to be donated.

Although the names of donors are kept anonymous, Ms Lee, who works part-time as a clinic assistant, connected the dots and tracked the couple down after reading about Carmen's death. Ms Lee and Carmen's parents told The Sunday Times that they wanted to publicise their meeting to raise awareness about the benefits of organ donation because some cultures and religions frown upon it.

There are two laws governing organ donation - Hota, and the Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act (MTERA), under which Mr Mark agreed to donate Carmen's organs.

Under MTERA, those aged 18 and above, regardless of nationality, can pledge their organs, tissues and whole body for the purpose of transplantation, treatment, education or research after death. It also allows a dead person's adult next of kin to pledge his organs on his behalf.

Hota is an opt-out scheme which covers all adult Singaporeans and PRs. It allows the kidneys, liver, heart and corneas to be donated after death for use in organ transplants.

 

The law was amended thrice to extend its coverage so that more people can benefit from it. This included increasing the list of organs that can be donated, including Muslims and removing the upper age limit of 60 for donors.

Dr Jeannette Goh, 35, a paediatric resident, is one of those who benefited from Hota. She received a cornea transplant in 2015 after suffering from a disorder of the eye known as keratoconus. The mother of two children was diagnosed with the condition in 2003 and experienced deteriorating vision in her right eye.

"I always had clear vision and never had to wear spectacles. So when I was diagnosed with the condition, which has no known cure, I was worried that I would eventually become blind," said Dr Goh, who wants to promote awareness about organ donations.

As of June, there were about 370 people on the waiting list for organ transplants. Of this, 253 patients were on the waiting list for a kidney, 52 for a liver, 41 for a cornea and 21 for a heart.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Spike in organ transplants after 2009 amendment to law'. Print Edition | Subscribe