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Too old for new heart? Germany faces dearth of organ donors

Reuters | Berlin | Updated: 16-01-2020 20:08 IST | Created: 16-01-2020 19:54 IST
Too old for new heart? Germany faces dearth of organ donors

Siegfried Richtsteig has been waiting in hospital for more than 130 days for a heart that would allow him to do the things he enjoyed most, like playing with his grandchildren before a stroke damaged the organ beyond repair. But time is ticking. He is 64 and under German rules when he turns 65 he will not be eligible for a transplant as scarce organs are saved for younger patients in a country where some 10,000 are on the national waiting list.

"I am already 64 and time is running out," said Richtsteig, sitting in his hospital bed, connected to a small machine that keeps his heart beating. "It could then end up that I have waited for nothing." He has reason to be pessimistic.

The German parliament on Thursday voted against a proposal by Health Minister Jens Spahn that would have made it easier for authorities to collect organs of people who die in Germany, where only 36% have an organ donor pass. In 2018 only 955 people donated organs in a country of more than 80 million people, according to the Health Ministry.

The draft law proposed by Spahn would have allowed authorities to collect organs of people who die if two conditions were met: they did not state during their adult life that they did not wish to be donors and their families did not object to their organs being collected after their death. Systems which effectively make being an organ donor the default have seen donation rates increase in some countries adopting them - although that increase is not universal.

The bill was defeated in a vote of 379 against and 292 for. The Bundestag approved instead a proposal backed by Green and conservative lawmakers that seeks to encourage more Germans to become donors by creating a simplified national register for donations.

"The is no right or wrong and it was not about winning or losing," Spahn said on Twitter after the vote. "It is about helping people. The public debate that has been generated was something in itself." Manfred Hummel, director of the Paulinen hospital in Berlin, said Germany was importing organs from European neighbors who have a surplus because of simpler collection rules and less bureaucracy such as Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

"Citizens are not eager in my view to be proactive and say 'I'll become a donor'," said Hummel, standing by Richtsteig's bed. He added that the government's priority after the defeat in parliament should be to campaign to encourage organ donation.

"There is so much paperwork involved in order to make any donation possible," said Richsteig. "Faced with a pile of papers, people say: 'I can't be bothered'."


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