In 1968, National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) carried out its first-ever kidney transplant, performed by Lee Chun-jean (李俊仁). Before the operation, a case review board considered the legitimacy of conducting the operation, addressing its medical, psychological and ethical aspects.
In my capacity as secretary of medical affairs in the hospital superintendent’s office, I represented the superintendent on the board.
The way in which the hospital handled the case illustrates its conscientious approach to organ transplants. It later started performing liver transplants, too. The liver transplant team, led originally by Lee Po-huang (李伯皇), is now headed by Hu Ray-heng (胡瑞恆). It is one of Taiwan’s two main liver transplant teams, the other being Chen Chao-long’s (陳肇隆) team at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.
In Taiwan, livers available for transplantation from deceased donors are scarce, so living-donor transplants are the main source of liver transplants — a fact widely known in China.
Taiwanese whose condition precludes receiving a living-donor liver transplant mostly travel to China for a deceased-donor transplant. Conversely, patients in China who need a live-donor liver transplant often come to Taiwan.
Although my specialties are cardiology and clinical pharmacology, I have also had many non-cardiac patients. Three of my patients went to China to undergo liver transplants, and all are still alive today, more than 10 years after their transplants.
The referring physician in their cases was Sheu Jin-chuan (許金川), an authority in liver diseases at NTUH. His counterpart in China was Zhu Zhijun (朱志軍), formerly of Tianjin First Central Hospital before moving to Beijing Friendship Hospital. Zhu’s wife is a doctor of internal medicine and was responsible for immune matching and post-operative care.
At NTUH, when a patient was certain to die due to trauma or an accident, our team encouraged their families to donate their organs, while organ recipients could repay donors’ families through “funeral subsidies” and “family settlement allowances.”
Did this arrangement make us “organ trade brokers”?
On the evening of Nov. 18, 2006, then-Taichung mayor Jason Hu’s (胡志強) wife, Shaw Hsiao-ling (邵曉鈴), was taken to Tainan’s Chimei Hospital in critical condition following a car crash.
As soon as NTUH received word of the accident, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who was then a surgeon at the hospital, traveled to Tainan overnight, taking an extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation machine in what was a successful bid to save Shaw’s life.
When word of the exploit reached China, Chinese hospitals competed to have Ko give them guidance. However, Ko remained at NTUH, which is something for Taiwan to be proud of.
In those days, news media often published exaggerated negative reports about NTUH for the sake of getting more readers and subscriptions.
I asked then-superintendent Wei Ping-yen (魏炳炎) whether we should try to clarify the matter, but he told me that we should ignore them and not waste personnel responding to individual cases, because if by any chance, we omitted something, the public might be more inclined to believe the reports.
If voters in Taipei are wise and well-informed, they will not believe the rumors and whisper campaigns being waged against Ko.
I advise Ko to recognize that decent members of the Democratic Progressive Party, whose chairperson is President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), will not resort to such underhand tactics.
Hsieh Yen-yau is a retired professor of internal medicine of the National Taiwan University College of Medicine.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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