A woman whose teenage daughter plans to challenge the authorities for not allowing her to be a liver donor has been pushed into the operating theatre for transplant surgery.
It is understood that a man who is not related to Tang Kwai-sze, a 43-year-old mother suffering from acute liver failure, donated part of his liver to Tang.
The surgery, which began on Thursday morning in Queen Mary Hospital, is expected to last for about six to eight hours.
This comes as Tang’s 17-year-old daughter challenges against the authorities for not letting her take a test to see if she is a fit donor because she is still three months shy of turning 18 – the legal age to be a living donor.
The case has sparked debate in the city, with concern groups and experts saying that the Hospital Authority should determine the mental and emotional stability of potential organ donors on the basis of professional assessment, not age.
“Her situation is critical and each day her condition is deteriorating,” said the girl, known only as Michelle, on a radio show on Thursday morning.
“From the first meeting with the doctor, I had volunteered to do it. It’s something that I really want, and no one forced me ... I am very aware about all the risks.”
Speaking on the same programme, doctor and Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said the city’s laws were “behind” and not in line with the government’s own efforts to encourage more organ donations.
Hong Kong has one of the lowest donation rates in the world at just 5.8 donors for every one million people.
Kwok cited overseas examples such as Scotland, which does not have an age limit, and Canada, where in provinces like Alberta, the law allows living minors under 18 to donate organs or tissue for transplant - as long as there's informed consent, no knowledge that another guardian of the minor would refuse, and approval of an independent assessment committee.
Hong Kong’s Human Organ Transplant Ordinance does not grant any discretion in the handling of transplant cases, and living donors must be at least 18 years old. As a result, the authority has not been willing to even test Michelle for mental and physical soundness.
The argument is that minors may not be mature enough to understand the risks involved.
Hong Kong Society of Transplantation Council president Chak Wai-leung said: “I believe age shouldn’t be used to determine whether someone is mature.
“It depends on their life experience and background. Hence, there should be some objective third-party professional assessment to determine maturity.”
Alex Lam Chi-yau, a solicitor and the chairman of Patients’ Voices, a concern group for patients that is helping Michelle, said they had written to the authority to request an assessment but had yet to receive a reply.
They have resorted to private clinical testing, and if Michelle is deemed mentally and physically fit for a transplant – results are due on Thursday afternoon – they will take legal action through the courts.
“We hope that we won’t have to take this step,” he said.
Lam said there was some legal basis for their judicial challenge, including grounds of human rights and one’s right to survive. Another argument was that doctors could not prove that if someone 17 years and nine months old and someone 18 years old took the same tests, the latter would always pass and the former would not.
Lawmaker Kwok urged the Hospitals Authority to conduct the test anyway as they would have to prove to a judge in court that Michelle was either fit or not fit to do the transplant.
“Such an assessment would help the court make a decision,” he said.