Syrian government studies legalizing organ transplantation

By Tamer al-Sheikh

DAMASCUS, Syria (North Press) – In the kidney dialysis department in al-Mouwasat Hospital sits Mary, a young woman with chronic kidney failure, waiting for her turn. Expressing her frustration, she laments the hours she spends hooked up to the dialysis machine, eagerly awaiting a kidney transplant that holds the promise of restoring her life back to normal.

Mary told North Press that there are many patients who suffer from the same problem, and “we are all waiting for a chance to live a normal life.”

Reem, a patient with kidney failure, shares her story about the waiting journey, telling North Press that she has been waiting for years for a chance to have a kidney transplant, as her situation is getting worse with no hope in the horizon.

Muhammad, a patient with heart disease, added that living with heart disease is extremely difficult. All he wants is a chance for a heart transplant.

Ray of hope

Within al-Mouwasat Hospital in the Syrian capital, Damascus, hundreds of patients battle chronic illnesses, desperately waiting for a ray of hope to rescue them from death. This hope may come in a form of an organ transplant.

In Damascus, the demand nowadays for organ transplants is increasing significantly. However, the transplantation of organs from brain-dead and clinically dead individuals is still prohibited for religious and legal reasons. Recently, efforts have been made to change these laws.

Director of al-Mouwasat Hospital, Issam al-Amin, said that the Syrian Ministry of Health has established a committee to examine the feasibility of legalizing organ transplantation within government-controlled areas.

Exclusive sources at the Syrian Ministry of Health told North Press that there are upcoming plans for a public awareness campaign to be launched on the streets. The campaign aims to educate and inform the public about the significance of organ donation and to foster a positive shift in people’s perception on this issue.

The sources also said that the ministry has already designated a number of centers in Damascus for organ transplantation. However, they emphasized that these endeavors are still in their infancy, and that many challenges lie ahead, which must be addressed before full implementation can take place.

Tha’er Amairi, a nephrologist at the Assad University Hospital, emphasized on the importance of opening such centers, “especially given the increasing need for organ transplantation in Syria.”

Amairi revealed to North Press that he read proposals advocating for the drafting of a law in Syria that would legalize and regulate organ transplantation. These proposals seek to establish clear guidelines and restrictions regarding the conditions under which such operations can take place.

Religious and legal obstacles

According to Sheikh Ahmad Sawan, an Islamic scholar, various religious reasons prevent organ donation from brain-dead and clinically dead people. He said that some scholars believe that these individuals are considered dead from the Islamic point of view (their souls left their bodies).

Sawan added that the negative perception of organ donation within the Syrian society could potentially limit the number of donors.

In Christianity, Father Antonius Hanania informed North Press that there is no consensus among all Christian churches regarding organ donation, but the majority of churches consider the body to be a gift from God that must be respected.

Current Syrian laws prohibit organ donation from brain-dead and clinically dead individuals. Furthermore, there are concerns about the possibility of exploiting poor and needy people to sell their organs, as well as the potential for unethical practices during organ transplant procedures.

Rashed al-Hussein, a lawyer in Damascus, told North Press that allowing organ donation from brain-dead and clinically dead individuals requires a change in current Syrian laws.

Despite these challenges, al-Hussein said, the legalization of organ transplantation represents a positive step towards saving the lives of many patients in Syria.

Samer Khair Bek, a lawyer in Damascus, told North Press that efforts are being made to change these laws and spread awareness about the importance of organ donation.

Khair Bek noted that the formation of the committee by the Ministry of Health to thoroughly study this issue heralds the possibility of passing a law that would allow organ donation from brain-dead and clinically dead people.

Pros and cons

The potential law has sparked widespread debate in Syria, between supporters who see it as an opportunity to save lives, and opponents who oppose the idea on religious and ethical grounds.

Shadi Kiwan, a physician, believes that such a law, if issued, would save lives of many patients who suffer from chronic diseases in the kidneys, heart, and liver. In addition, Kiwan added, such a law would reduce treatment costs for patients suffering from chronic diseases.

Similarly, Samer Sweid, another physician, said that promoting organ donation from dead donors is necessary due to the increasing shortage of organs.

“We found that the majority of our patients are willing to donate their organs, driven by the pure desire to help others,” said Sweid. However, fear of mutilation through organ removal and distrust in the process of choosing recipients are major obstacles to organ donation.

The efforts to allow organ donation from brain-dead and clinically dead people in Syria are relatively recent and encounter many challenges. Nevertheless, most people agree that these efforts signify a positive stride towards potentially saving the lives of many patients in Syria.

The first kidney transplant from a living donor in Syria took place 45 years ago, in 1979. A total of 5,132 kidney transplants were done until 2018. Three heart transplants from dead donors were performed at the Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus between mid-1989 to the end of 1990; heart transplant surgeries have ceased since then.

Between 2017 and 2019, two liver transplants from living donors were performed at the Assad University Hospital in Damascus. Currently, kidney, bone marrow, and corneal transplants are performed in Syria.

The regulation of organ donation rests with the Syrian government, and it is necessary to achieve balance between religious, ethical, and pressing medical needs if such a law is issued.