Regulations governing organ transplants in Saudi Arabia
Health is wealth. It may not be easy for a healthy individual to understand the true meaning of this proverb, but ask somebody who has to regularly visit a dialysis center or an individual whose liver function is deteriorating with each passing day.
Thanks to technological advancements, many incurable diseases can now be cured. Organ and tissue transplants have rekindled the hope of survival among many people suffering in pain and from dangerous diseases.
Organ transplants in Saudi Arabia started over three decades ago with a religious edict allowing the practice.
Since then, the number of Saudi donors has been on the rise. Recently, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also announced having registered in a national organ donor program. This royal and noble gesture has given a new impetus to the organ donation drive in the Kingdom.
There are, however, clear rules and regulations governing this important area of the health sector. These rules, as every other regulation in the Kingdom, are based on Islamic principles or Shariah.
As per Islamic law, all matters related to organ donation should be documented with stipulations, if any.
While it is permissible to harvest organs from a dead person, it cannot be done without the approval of their kin. If heirs cannot be identified, the approval of the closest relatives will suffice. If there are several close relatives, then the approval of the majority should be obtained to carry out any procedure.
A donor is allowed to change his mind before the procedure and he or she can do so unconditionally. Similarly, prior to death, a person can also withdraw his permission
to allow the harvesting of their organs.
Organ transplant procedures can only be conducted in licensed health facilities. A living donor should be examined by a panel of psychiatrists and social workers to ensure his mental health, that he has made the decision of his own free will without any compulsion, and does not have any health conditions causing him to make any drastic decision.
A donor has to undergo a comprehensive medical examination by a specialist team to ensure the donor’s health readiness. Finally, the donor should be informed of all the confirmed and potential consequences of the removal of his donated organ.
It is also important to refer to the cases in which organ transplant is prohibited, which includes the following: If the human organ to be donated is necessary for the life of the donor, if the donation leads to his death, hampers the normal function of an entire organ, or hinders his day-to-day affairs.
If the medical team assigned to carry out the transplant thinks that the process will not succeed in the body of the benefactor and if the living person is without or lacking capacity, the approval of his guardian or person in charge of his affairs shall not be considered.
To encourage people to join this humanitarian initiative, the Saudi Center for Organ Transplantation is coordinating with the Health Endowment Fund to secure the needs of licensed health facilities to conduct these specialized operations.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi lawyer and legal consultant. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif