All Maltese residents from the age 16 may register their wish to donate their organs in the newly set up Register of Organ Donors, according to a new law that Parliament started to debate yesterday.

The government and the Opposition registered their agreement about the Organ and Tissue Donation Bill.

Opening the debate, Parliamentary Secretary Chris Fearne shared his professional experiences of the hope and desperation felt by patients and their families, enlightened by episodes of generosity and altruism.

Organ donation and transplants were wonders of science and miracles of generosity, giving new life, Dr Fearne remarked.

He traced the development of organ transplantation in Malta since the first cornea transplant by ophthalmologist Walter Soler in 1978. This practice developed exponentially since the late 1990s and 220 organ transplants have been performed.

These practitioners worked in a legal vacuum, stretching the boundaries and sometimes at personal risk within ethical guidelines. This Bill aimed to provide a legal framework supporting organ donation principles in line with the values cherished by the Maltese population.

Malta’s transplant waiting list was made up of 104 persons, including 95 individuals waiting for a kidney, two requiring a heart, three persons in need of a lung and four expecting a liver transplant.

Besides registering the wish to donate one’s organs, people will also be able to expressly state that they do not wish their organs to be donated.

In the case of people who die without stating their wishes either way, the decision will be made by next of kin in consultation with doctors, in line with the current practice.

People may always change their declaration throughout their lifetime, but relatives will not be allowed to act against the person’s wishes after their death.

Health shadow minister Claudette Pace (PN) congratulated Dr Fearne for piloting the Bill and recalled the extensive debate that was held with the Opposition and other stakeholders leading up to this point, when the proposed law enjoyed the support of both sides of the House.

However, she noted that the Opposition was demanding that the Bill exclude sperm, ova and, in particular, embryo donation.

According to the Bill, live donations to persons chosen by the donor would only be allowed for relatives or persons with an emotional tie to the donor, while financial considerations and organ trafficking would be declared a crime.

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