Dutch ‘shopping for donor organs’ in Belgium
Over the past three years, fifty Dutch citizens have received organ transplants in Belgium. There are more organs available in Belgium because everybody is a donor, unless they choose not to be. In the Netherlands, people have to fill in a form to be registered as donors.
By Nina Eikens*
Research by the Dutch Transplant Foundation shows that many of the patients who went to Belgium were never even on Dutch waiting lists. A shortage of organs in the Netherlands has led to the introduction of such strict criteria that many patients are rejected. In Belgium, they are easily accepted and often have to wait only a few months for a new heart, kidney, lung, liver or pancreas.
Last week, the Organ Donation Coordination Group advised Health Minister Ab Klink to introduce a system which would automatically make people donors unless they fill in a form saying they don't want to be. However, the Dutch cabinet has rejected the proposal. Minister Klink prefers a system in which everybody can give permission for organ donation, on condition that the next of kin agree. Those who take no action automatically leave the decision up to their relatives.
On the current affairs programme Nova, the health minister said he was not aware that Dutch people went to Belgium for transplants. On the programme, several patients talked about their transplants in Antwerp. Two heart patients from the southern province of Brabant, who were rejected for transplants in the Netherlands, received heart transplants in Belgium within six months.
The Dutch Transplant Foundation has questions about the number of patients who reportedly went to Belgium for transplants. Board member Mike Bos says there is no surplus of organs in Belgium.
"Belgium has a waiting list just like the Netherlands. I can't imagine this happening with kidney transplants. The Eurotransplant regulations are so strict, we know exactly what's happening everywhere. If organs become available in Belgium they must be reported to Eurotransplant too. You can't reserve organs for other patients."
However, Mr Bos came up with a few possible explanations for what happened:
• Dutch citizens living in Belgium can register for an organ transplant there.
• Dutch residents of the border region who would normally be treated in the Antwerp hospital can also receive an organ transplant there.
• A family transplant (receiving an organ from a living donor) does not require putting your name up on a waiting list. This type of operation can take place anywhere. If you have to wait a long time in the Netherlands, you can undergo the operation in Belgium.
Mr Bos says the situation should be investigated.
"It would be a violation of the rules, and that's unacceptable. This really should not be happening. Under Eurotransplant rules, you can be on only one waiting list. You can't go shopping for an organ".
* RNW translation (gsh)
18 June 2008
[Copyright Radio netherlands]