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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Everything you need to know about the UAE's organ donor programme

Legislation and new drive provides a lifeline for hundreds of patients

Organ transplants have been carried out in hospitals across the globe for decades, but in some countries in the Middle East, the practise was banned until recently.

Opinion has been divided as to whether organ donations from a deceased person is permissible in Islam.

In Islam, the body is viewed as sacred, during and after death, thus prohibiting cremation and tattoos.

One school of thought, particularly in the past, viewed the removal of organs after death as equally impermissible.

That view has largely changed in society, and among scholars, to be seen as permissible to save another life.

Performing transplants with the organs of dead donors was legalised in the UAE in 1993, but the law failed to include a medical definition of death.

The ambiguity related to whether a patient was brain dead, or merely cardiac dead, and so it was avoided for 20 years.

Transplants were restricted to organs from living donors, usually kidney operations. Some travelled abroad for treatment, often at significant expense.

In 2013, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health and Awqaf, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, defined brain death.

This was a medical milestone and the first donation from a deceased patient took place in May 2013, with a kidney being flown from Saudi Arabia.

Latifa Saeed was the first Emirati to receive a transplant from a deceased donor, at the age of 23 in 2013.

She had been on dialysis since she was seven years old.

But the authorities were still not satisfied with the legal framework and waited for an update of the 1993 law. This came in 2016 under an updated presidential decree.

The organ transplant law decreed by the President, Sheikh Khalifa, and took effect in March 2017.

Dr Ameen Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, said at the time, that “the law provides a clear definition of death - in keeping with fatwas given by the councils of senior scholars in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and other Islamic nations.”

The law clarifying organ transplantation from living people and the deceased was passed to the huge relief of patients and their families.

The National has reported on a number of Emirati patients who had resorted to transplants abroad and returned with life threatening complications.

In recent months, plans have been put in place to build a donor programme for the first time, with Emiratis and expats given the option to donate in the event of their death.

The mechanism to be a donor is still being studied, but is expected to be ready in the coming months.

In addition, hospitals have begun asking the families of patients who pass away if their relative would donate their organs.

Such a system will play a key role in saving the lives of hundreds of patients.