The government is mulling the loosening of age restrictions on organ donation and, by as early as next month, it may become possible for infants who are classified as brain dead to have their organs removed so that the lives of other infants may be saved, the Department of Health said on Monday.
Brain death — either just the brainstem or the entire brain — is a condition describing the absence of all brain activity and results in neuronal necrosis after the brain is deprived of oxygen. The condition is often used as a legal definition of death.
The department’s draft amendment to the legal definition would see the age parameters lowered to include children born from full-term gestation (37 weeks) and would thus legalize the proclamation of infant brain death in children less than three years old.
The result would be that children and infants declared brain dead would be able to donate their organs to others in need, the department said.
According to the department’s medical affairs bureau chief Lu Nien-tzu (呂念慈), current regulations state that brain dead infants must be more than three years old before their organs can be removed.
While there are less than 10 cases of children under three years of age awaiting heart or intestinal transplants, they usually pass away before they are able to receive new organs due to the current regulations, Lu said.
However, Lu said that under certain circumstances, the infants’ pathogenic buffer to pressure is much better than that of an adult, which means it is more difficult to ascertain whether an infant is brain dead or not.
The department has brought together the opinions of various members of the medical profession and now states that two pediatricians — who are authorized and who have passed relevant training — must perform the diagnosis and, when necessary, the diagnosis should be based on cerebral blood flow and brainwave patterns, Lu said.