Parliament has approved government’s proposed penalty of life imprisonment for any person who sells or gets involved in any form of compensation for human organs, tissues, or cells.
This is part of the Uganda Human Organ Donation and Transplant Bill, 2021 that the House passed on Thursday.
It applies to the donation and transplantation of human organs, tissues, and cells including kidneys, heart, blood, lungs, liver, pancreas, intestines, thymus, bone marrow, bones, tendon, ligaments, corneas, cells, skim, amniotic membrane, penile, uterus, and others.
Currently, Uganda does not have any law governing human organ donation and transplantation, which, according to the Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng said is increasingly becoming an area of health care used to cure non-communicable diseases that are rising rapidly. She also states concern about the increase in the illicit trade in and trafficking of human organs, cells, and tissue.
While tabling the proposed law to parliament in July, the Minister said that the object of the Bill is to establish a legal framework for the regulation of organ, cell, and tissue donation and transplantation, aimed at protecting the dignity and identity of every person and guarantee, without discrimination, respect for integrity and other rights and fundamental freedoms with regard to donation and transplantation of organs.
Now, the new Act approved by Parliament prohibits the sale of one organ such as an eye or kidney by a living donor for financial or any other form of compensation.
A person who contravenes the provision commits an offense and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for life. The life imprisonment sentence will also apply to a person who renders his or her services outside a hospital environment for purpose of removing any human organ without authority.
Once assented to by the President, the Bill will prohibit trading and trafficking in human organs, cells and tissues, obtaining financial gain or comparable advantage from the medical and scientific use of human body and its parts, use of force or any form of coercion to obtain a donation of organs, tissues or cells and others.
The piece of legislation also prohibits the removal of a human organ, tissue or cell from a living donor without consent or authorization.
Parliament approved the recommendation by Health Committee Chairperson, Dr. Charles Ayume, that a person who contravenes this provision commits an offense and is also liable, on conviction, to life imprisonment.
This committee recommendation is different from an earlier proposed government penalty of imprisonment not exceeding 12 years or a fine not exceeding 2 billion Shillings (one hundred thousand currency points) or both.
Dr. Ayume said that the new provision is to provide for a more deterrent penalty.
In regard to children, Ayume said that the new law only allows harvesting organs and tissues from a living child, in exceptional circumstances approved by the Uganda Organ and Transplant Council that is to be established to oversee and regulate organ, cell and tissue donation and transplantation in the country.
One of the provisions under which a living child may donate is stem cell therapy for miners who are twins or close siblings after approval by the Council. Contravention of this provision also attracts a penalty of life imprisonment.
Donation of organs by children over 18 years of age is only permitted under the new law with consent from parents.
Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa said that the Bill will help Ugandans get organ transplants with well-prescribed guidelines and also protect vulnerable people.