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UPDATED: December 21, 2006 NO. 30 JULY 27, 2006
Regulating Transplants
Legislation to determine brain death is viewed as essential in controlling the organ transplant industry

Organ transplant represents a very sensitive and complicated issue. Experts say the temporary administrative regulations recently promulgated by the Central Government are an important step, but relevant laws and regulations must follow. Among these, the experts agree, legislation dealing with brain death is the most basic and urgent.

Since China has not instituted laws on brain death, people still accept the traditional standards for determining death: the cessation of breathing and heartbeat. However, there often is a time lapse between brain death and the cessation of heartbeat. If organs are removed only when the heart stops beating, many have lost their transplant value.

"Without legislation on brain death, there is no actual effect, however hard China advocates organ donation," Chen Dazhi, Deputy Director of the Beijing Organ Transplant Center at Chaoyang Hospital, told Beijing Review.

Related Chinese government departments have realized the need for legislation to establish when a person is "brain dead," that is, when the brain has ceased to function. In April 2000, the Ministry of Health carried out its initial research on the standards for brain death, because there were cases in which organ donations were made after a person was brain dead but before the death was determined by traditional standards, which aroused a lot of public controversy.

In 2003, the Ministry of Health issued a draft on Judging the Standards of Brain Death (Adults) for public opinion. In 2005, when the ministry was seeking views from the public on the Temporary Regulations on the Administration of Human Organ Transplants for Clinical Purposes, Vice Minister of Health Huang Jiefu said that the provisions might adopt the dual standards of the cessation of heartbeat and brain death, based on the family's choice.

Later on, there were some reports that the Chinese Government would promulgate a law on brain death. But the temporary regulations make no mention of any standard for determining death, let alone the words "brain death."

Sun Dongdong, professor at Peking University's Law School who participated in the draft of the brain death law, said, "The greatest difficulty comes from people's traditional concept. The standards for brain death will be drawn up, but not in the near future."

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