x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Lack of definition poses hurdles

In August 1993, Federal Law No. 15 was issued in the UAE to regulate organ transplants. It legalises live relative donor transplants and cadaver donor transplants, and prohibits the buying and selling of organs. The problem for doctors wanting to perform cadaver transplants in the country appears to be a lack of legal definition of when a person is "brain dead". In many other countries, the law defining when a patient is brain dead and when they qualify for organ donation is clear.

In Britain, for example, brain death is not based on the beating of the heart. A person is classified as brain dead once his or her brain has suffered irreversible damage, which is known as brain stem death. This is decided on factors such as lack of breathing and other vital reflexes, and an absence of muscle activity. This definition was introduced in 1976. The first nation to adopt brain death as a legal definition of death was Finland in 1971.

Brain death is the point at which doctors can switch off machines or start taking organs. A kidney can be taken for transplant once a heart has stopped beating, but other organs, such as lungs and livers, can only be successfully transplanted when taken from donors whose hearts are still beating. The Human Tissue Act 2004, which came into force in April 2006 in Britain, gave doctors the authority to remove organs where consent had been stated, regardless of protests from family.

Spain has presumed consent, where those who die are seen as willing to donate their organs unless they have stated otherwise. - Mitya Underwood