It's a move that will save thousands of lives â€” and prevent terminally ill and desperate patients from falling prey to unscrupulous organ traders.
The Union law ministry has cleared the long-pending amendments to the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, and will send the draft Bill to the cabinet secretary on Tuesday.
The Bill, which is scheduled to be introduced in the next session of Parliament, seeks to legalize swapping of vital organs between willing but incompatible donors. At present, transplants can take place only between blood relatives (father, mother, son, daughter, etc), relatives and those emotionally close to the patient. Swapping will help patients who have relatives willing to donate but are medically incompatible for the recipient.
Under this system, when a donor's organ isn't compatible with his own relative but is suitable for another, two families, unknown to each other, can exchange the organs.
A health ministry official said, "Many people in India die every month due to unavailability of donated organs or lack of a compatible donor within the family. Swapping will help exchange of organs between two unknown families and also help being down illegal organ trade."
However, under the new amendments, punishment against those involved in commercial organ trade is being made harsher and cognizable. The Bill says those involved in the trade, including doctors who help in the racket, will be punishable with imprisonment for two-seven years with a financial penalty of Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000.
The amendments also entitle living organ donors to sops like a 50% discount on second-class rail tickets, lifelong free medical check-up and care in the hospital where organ donation takes place, customised life insurance policy of Rs 2 lakh etc.
The health ministry is also planning a national organ transplant programme from November â€” this will set up organ retrieval and banking organisations in the big metros to store donated organs.
At present, as against a demand of 4.5 lakh patients needing organ transplants annually, India has conducted only 35,000 organ transplants in the past decade.