• Vol. 38 No. 4, 346–353
  • 15 April 2009

The Transplantable Organ Shortage in Singapore – Has Implementation of Presumed Consent to Organ Donation Made a Difference

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ABSTRACT

The success of solid organ transplantation in the treatment of end-stage organ failure has fuelled a growing demand for transplantable organs worldwide that has far outstripped the supply from brain dead heart-beating donors. In Singapore, this has resulted in long waiting lists of patients for transplantable organs, especially kidneys. The Human Organ Transplant Act, introduced in 1987, is an opt-out scheme that presumes consent to removal of certain organs for transplantation upon death. Despite this legislation, the number of deceased organ donors in Singapore, at 7 to 9 per million population per year, remains low compared to many other developed countries. In this paper, we reviewed the clinical challenges and ethical dilemmas encountered in managing and identifying potential donors in the neurological intensive care unit (ICU) of a major general hospital in Singapore. The large variance in donor actualisation rates among local restructured hospitals, at 0% to 56.6% (median 8.8%), suggests that considerable room still exists for improvement. To address this, local hospitals need to review their processes and adopt changes and best practices that will ensure earlier identification of potential donors, avoid undue delays in diagnosing brain death, and provide optimal care of multi-organ donors to reduce donor loss from medical failures.


The first transplant operation was a successful kidney transplantation between identical twins performed on 23 December 1954 at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, USA.1 Since that time, rapid advances in transplant surgery coupled with advancements in immunosuppressive therapy, have made solid organ transplantation the treatment of choice for end-stage organ failure today.

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