Members of the Legislative Assembly
have unanimously voted to back a motion to legalise organ harvesting and
transplantation in the Cayman Islands.
The private member’s motion,
brought by George Town UDP legislator Ellio Solomon, called for human organ and
tissue transplant to be introduced to Cayman. Currently there is no legislation
that allows for the transplanting of human organs and tissue locally. Patients
must travel overseas for transplant operations.
Mr. Solomon, in bringing the motion
– his first since he was elected – said it was recognised that a significant
number of Caymanians were suffering from debilitating illnesses, such as
diabetes, and that many required replacement of tissue and organs to survive or
live a normal life.
He said there is no provision in
the law for the body of a deceased person to have organs or tissue removed,
stored or transplanted, whether or not the deceased person, while alive, had
expressed a desire to donate organ or tissue.
All 12 members of the Legislative
Assembly present for the debate voted to support Mr. Solomon’s motion.
Health Minister Mark Scotland
explained that once relevant legislation was in place and facilities to enable
transplants were created, patients would no longer need to travel off Island
for organ transplants.
“Government’s acceptance of this
motion will also open up the possibility of the Islands becoming a party to an
organ donation network,” Mr. Scotland said. “Currently, as we are not a
donating party, local patients are treated as low priority for transplant consideration
from overseas sources… By becoming a part of the organ donation network, the
Cayman Islands will benefit from local patients having increased priority for
consideration to receive genetically matched organs and tissue provided by
donors, as well as having the opportunity to provide organs and tissue that
will benefit others.”
He cited the practice in other
jurisdictions of donors’ driving licence specifying whether individuals are
willing to donate their organs and tissue after death.
‘An adjustment in the culture’
Mr. Scotland acknowledged that the
acceptance of organ harvesting and transplants would take “an adjustment in the
culture for the people of the Cayman Islands”.
“Never before has the question been
posed of being an organ donor. Furthermore, no one wants to contemplate the
circumstance where a family member will require an organ transplant, or yourself,
for that matter…
“Also, from a spiritual
perspective, our community is a God-fearing one, that has carried us through
storms, both literally and figuratively. The introduction of a legal framework
that permits organ and tissue harvesting and transplants will cause some
reluctance at first amongst residents who have a more traditional way of
thinking, in terms of accepting that loved ones’ organs or tissue could be used
to spare the life of another.
“Nevertheless, I thoroughly believe
that our Christian values do allow for us to be a society which embraces the
privilege of being able to save or better a life through organ or tissue
donation,” Mr. Scotland said.
Another reason for proposed change
In addition to eliminating the need
for Cayman Islands residents to travel overseas for organ transplants, another
of the driving forces behind the proposed change to the law is the slated
establishment of a medical tourism hospital in Cayman by Indian cardiologist
Devi Shetty. The government has signed an agreement with Dr. Shetty to amend
legislation to help pave the way for creation of the hospital. Among the work
that would be carried out at the facility would be heart and other organ
Mr. Scotland explained that an
organ donation committee – a subcommittee of the Health Practice Commission –
had been set up to examine the requirements for the Cayman Islands to become a
party to a specific organ donation network, the Life Gift Organ Donation Centre
in Houston, Texas.
The committee suggested that some
laws would need to be changed to allow for the harvesting and transplantation
of organs and tissue, including the Wills Law, Penal Code and Succession Law.
The minister said the Legal
Department had advised that “there is no legislation in force which regulates
removal, storage and use of human organs and tissue”, but that laws do exist
that may make it an offence to remove organs or tissue from a living person or
a corpse. Amendments would also have to be made to the Trafficking in Persons
(Prevention and Suppression) Law 2007, Mr. Scotland said.
He said his ministry has set up a
“stakeholders committee” consisting of the Health Practice Commission, the
Health Services Authority, Ministry of Health, the Legal Department, health
practitioners, private sector attorneys and others, along with Mr. Solomon.
“The committee will develop and put forward recommendations for an appropriate
legal framework that will allow human organ and tissue importation, harvesting
and transplant,” Mr. Scotland explained.
Former health minister, PPM member
Anthony Eden, who last year underwent surgery in Miami to repair a blocked
artery, said this was the third time in 11 years that the issue of organ
transplants had been heard in the Legislative Council. It was debated in 1999
and again in June, 2008. He said that between 2003 and 2008, 18 people in
Cayman had received liver, heart, kidney, cornea or pancreas transplants.
He also addressed the possible
cultural reluctance of people in the Cayman Islands toward organ harvesting and
transplant, urging that Mr. Solomon and the government work to educate the
public on the importance and benefits of local organ donations and
“We have to question whether the
turning off and removal of organs from a loved one for transplant would be
acceptable within the Cayman culture,” he said.
Captain Eugene Ebanks, who seconded
Mr. Solomon’s motion, said there were several local people who had received or
donated organs. “Without those organs, those persons would be more than likely
deceased. In my opinion, a person should be allowed to donate an organ while
they are alive or after their death if they so desire, and if the organ is
compatible with the recipient,” he said.
Mr. Solomon thanked kidney
specialist Dr. Frits Hendricks, Dr. Steve Tomlinson, Steve McField and Andrew
Eden for their input and help on the issue of organ transplants.