By Caroline Song

The Moscow Times recently published an article highlighting the problems that are currently plaguing Russia’s organ procurement process.

After getting into a car accident, Alina Sablina fell into a coma and subsequently passed away. While filing charges against the other driver, Sablina’s parents came across a forensic report that listed the removal of seven of their daughter’s organs. However, neither Sablina nor her parents had consented to the procedures, or had even been informed of them. This surprising discovery explained the hospital’s refusal to allow Sablina’s parents to see her on the last day of her life; she must have been getting prepped for organ removal.

Alina’s case is not an uncommon occurrence. Such incidents highlight the deficit in Russia’s current laws and regulations governing organ procurement practices. The most recent organ transplant legislation dates back to 1992; it is a short, three-page document riddled with loopholes allowing for the secret harvest of organs. Article 8 of the law establishes presumed consent on behalf of the individual for the removal of organs postmortem. However, at the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia signed on to an agreement that guarantees that close relatives will be the ones to decide whether the deceased organ’s can be removed. To complicate matters further, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that relatives should not be questioned about organ procurement at the same time they are notified about the death of a family member; nor should a person be informed about organ procurement immediately prior to a surgical procedure. However, denying families and close relatives the opportunity to refuse consent to organ donation seems to constitute a rights violation.

Such practices threaten to undermine the trust patients have in their doctors. In fact, research has shown that more forthcoming donation practices lead to higher donations. For example, Russia performed only 200 liver transplants in 2010, while the United States (where organ donation requires expressed consent) performed over 5,000 liver transplants in the same time period.

Consent, presumed or not, ought to be expressed prior to removal. Hospitals should educate their staff on how to approach family members in order to discuss organ donation. Further, all Russian citizens need to be made aware of their country’s presumed consent legislation. There also needs to be a push for more transparency in organ procurement procedures and hospital practices.

Read the full article here.