Fri, Nov 21, 2014 - Page 1 News List

KMT lawmakers question NTUH organ harvesting

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Su Ching-chuan speaks in the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee meeting yesterday.

Photo: Lo Pei-der, Taipei Times

Two Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers yesterday accused the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) of having used “unethical methods” to trick district prosecutors into issuing death certificates for potential organ donors, in an apparent bid to undermine the integrity of physician-turned-independent Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).

Ko once served as convener of the hospital’s organ procurement team and the director of its emergency care team since 2008.

During a question-and-answer session at a meeting of the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, physician-turned-legislator Liao Kuo-tung (廖國棟) said he had “heard” from two top medical professionals that the hospital had given high doses of phentolamine to dozens of accident victims who were potential organ donors in the past 15 years, with the doses causing such dramatic drops in blood pressure that the patients’ hearts stopped beating.

“The hospital’s doctors subsequently connected the patients to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation [ECMO] machine to improve the viability of their organs and inserted an occlusion balloon catheter through the left femoral artery to block blood from flowing toward the heart,” Liao said.

After a district attorney and coroner arrived, the doctors then turned down the ECMO machine so the heart would stop so that “a death certificate could be issued,” Liao said.

“Such practices were not only carried out in a legal ‘gray area,’ but were a major violation of medical ethics,” Liao said.

“They used every possible means to stop the patients’ hearts and keep their organs fresh. They murdered potential donors solely to be able to retrieve their organs and someone else’s life,” he said.

In his criticism, physician-turned lawmaker Su Ching-chuan (蘇清泉) cited an English-language paper, “Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation support of donor abdominal organs in non-heart-beating donors,” published in the journal Clinical Transplantation in 2000, that lists Ko as the first author, hinting that Ko had also taken part in what Su called “an immoral practice.”

“Doctors are not God. It is not up to them to decide who lives or dies,” Su said, urging the Ministry of Health and Welfare to investigate the allegations.

Article 4 of the Regulation Governing the Transplantation and Allocation of Human Organs (人體器官移植分配及管理辦法) stipulates that an organ retrieval procedure can only be performed on individuals that have been declared clinically dead.

The hospital’s organ donation guidelines state that brain death can be used to determine death if the potential donor fits the criteria for being brain dead.

Otherwise, cardiac death should be used as the basis for declaring death, it states.

Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Hsu Ming-neng (許銘能) said the ministry would investigate whether the alleged procedures were carried out before or after the patients were declared brain dead.

“If it was the former scenario, then it did break the laws,” Hsu said.

Wang Tsung-hsi (王宗曦), director of the ministry’s Department of Medical Affairs, said connecting a patient who has been pronounced medically dead to an ECMO machine is often intended to allow blood flow to the body’s organs and does not pose any legal concerns.

The hospital declined to comment on the accusations, saying only that it would cooperate with the ministry’s investigation.

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