Face off: should the law be changed to allow organ donation by people younger than 18?

Face off: should the law be changed to allow organ donation by people younger than 18?

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic. This week ...

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Health Minister Ko Wing-man had promised to look into changing the law so people under 18 can be considered as potential donors.
Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

Veronica Lin, 17

There’s no reason why a person aged below 18, who has a family member in dire need of an organ transplant, cannot become a living donor after both a physician and a psychiatrist have deemed them fit to do so.

According to the American Transplant Foundation, a living donation “doesn’t change [the donor’s] life expectancy” nor does it prevent them from living “healthy and active lives”. What’s more, the majority of living donors have had “positive emotional experiences”.

For the recipient, the benefits are enormous – or, quite literally, life-changing. Not only will the organ donation improve their quality of life, it means the waiting time for other patients becomes shorter.

So how come minors in Hong Kong are banned from becoming a donor, when the benefits clearly outweigh the disadvantages? Our first priority should be to save lives. Perhaps the only concern here is that the organs of young children might not be fully developed, so the process could have a negative impact on their health.

However, we have to understand that each prospective donor – regardless of their age – has to go through a series of rigorous tests, including physical and psychological assessments . So, even adults will not be eligible to become donors if they fail to meet the criteria set by the doctors.

Most importantly, an organ donation from a family member would reduce the risk of rejection and other serious complications.

Michelle, who was three months shy of the legal age of 18, was denied the right to save her mother, who was dying from acute liver failure. But, if you think about it, how much will the girl’s physical and psychological condition change over a period of just three months?

Understandably, minors are prohibited from doing certain things, such as getting a driver’s licence or buying cigarettes or alcohol. But with organ transplants, it’s a completely different story, because even a few days’ delay could mean the difference between life and death. Just imagine what would have happened if it weren’t for that kind-hearted stranger who volunteered to donate her liver to the young girl’s mother. Indeed, if her mum had died, Michelle would have been devastated, and it could have left a lasting impact on her mentally.

So, if medical professionals say that a teenager is fit to become a donor, who are we to deny them the opportunity to save another person’s life?

I believe the law should be changed to allow organ donation by people younger than 18.


Health Minister Ko Wing-man to review organ donation laws in Hong Kong


Tacye Hong, 19, University of Toronto, Canada

People aged below 18 are not allowed to vote because they are believed to be not mature enough to make a wise decision. They are usually not well-informed and often do not understand the consequences of their actions. It’s a similar situation with organ donations – they have no idea of the risk they are taking. Determined to save their loved one, they might take an impulsive or emotional decision without actually thinking about what they are getting into.

Everyone, not just teenagers, often blindly accept the terms and conditions online to proceed with whatever they are doing, for example, downloading an app or entering a lucky draw. Likewise, every medical procedure brings about certain risks and teens might very well accept those risks without realising their significance.

What’s more, as people under 18 are not deemed competent to understand what they are signing, all the documents regarding an organ donation will have to be signed by a parent or a legal guardian. As a result, it will be difficult to tell whether the teenager is donating their organ based on their own wishes or not. It’s possible that they could be “controlled” by their family, or make a decision simply because of the pressure brought on by the media.

Children’s rights must be protected at all times and one way to do that is to never allow them to be organ donors.

Some people might argue that there are children who need transplants and it works best if the donor is a young person. I believe society should only rely on organs from deceased adults and children. This is because the body of a teenager is not fully developed and an organ donation can have a negative impact on a young donor, both physically and mentally.

In conclusion, I don’t think the law should be changed to allow those aged below 18 to become organ donors. If there is a medical emergency, the priority should always be to get an organ from a deceased person. In fact, the government should promote this aspect of organ donation among students, letting them know that they can save lives even after they die.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne

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