The Taipei Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday it has assigned a prosecutor with a background in medical education to investigate a case involving the transplantation of organs from a donor with HIV to five patients at two local hospitals.
Lu Chun-ju (呂俊儒), a graduate of National Taiwan University’s Department of Medical Technology who has been assigned to investigate the case, said the office had not yet identified any suspects.
“For the moment, I will focus on collecting facts related to the incident,” he said.
Taipei Prosecutors’ Office spokesman Wang Wen-teh (王文德) said the case might be an indictable offense based on Article 11 of the HIV Infection Control and Patient Rights Protection Act (人類免疫缺乏病毒傳染防治及感染者權益保障條例), which requires medical institutions to conduct HIV tests before proceeding with any organ or tissue transplant.
Violators can be fined NT$30,000 to NT$150,000 (US$1,034 to US$5,170), as stipulated in Article 22 of the act, Wang said.
If a flawed transplant leads to a recipient contracting HIV, those involved in such an operation could be given jail terms of three to 10 years, he said.
“While it would take time to determine whether anybody has contracted HIV in this case” — the first-ever known transplant of organs from a donor with HIV in Taiwan — “we need to start the investigation right away,” Wang said.
The prosecutors’ office has asked the Department of Health to provide all relevant data and information, as healthcare institutions are obligated to inform the department of organ donation and transplant cases, he said.
“We need to check medical institutions’ regular standard operating procedures for organ donations and transplants,” Wang said, adding that those who would be summoned for questioning would include individuals responsible for removing the organs, reporting the HIV test results, verifying the results and approving the transplant surgery.
The five transplants — four by National Taiwan University Hospital and one by National Cheng Kung University Hospital — were performed on Aug. 24. The hospitals only realized two days later that the donor had HIV. Prior to the operations, the National Taiwan University Hospital transplant team relied only on communication by telephone to get the results of the HIV tests on the organs, and it thought it was given a green light when in fact the organs had tested positive for the virus.
The Cheng Kung team took the other team’s word that the organs had been cleared and went ahead with its heart transplant. National Taiwan University Hospital said on Saturday its medical team had failed to follow standard operating procedures in the case and should have checked the test results on the computer before proceeding.
Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) yesterday said he felt deep regret and distress over the mix-up.
Chiu said the department would organize “care teams” to help patients and medical personnel involved in the transplants.
“We will give priority to the transplant patients, while also offering counseling and help to members of the transplant teams,” Chiu said.