SINGAPORE, March 25, 2009 (AFP) - Singapore has passed a law allowing cash payments to organ donors despite objections from some ruling-party deputies who fear poor foreigners may be exploited by desperately ill Singaporeans.
The legislative amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Act was passed by lawmakers Tuesday, according to the parliament website.
Previously, it was illegal for a living donor to be financially compensated but the issue came to a head last year when a local tycoon was jailed for one day for attempting to pay off a prospective Indonesian kidney donor.
"This is a bill about fairness, being fair to donors who do suffer financial consequences as a result of their act of donation," Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan told parliament Tuesday during the final debate on the issue.
"I know the controversial nature of paying donors," Khaw said. "But we also realise that it is unfair to allow genuine donors to bear all the financial consequences of their altruistic acts."
Khaw said he disagreed with the suggestion made by some lawmakers that foreign donors be barred from accepting financial compensation to prevent exploitation of nationals from poor countries.
"How can we discriminate against the foreign donors in this fashion?" Khaw said.
"Once we decide that some payments can be ethically made, our law cannot unfairly discriminate against organ donors based on their nationalities," he said.
Under the new law, an organ recipient can voluntarily pay the donor if he wishes to help cover expenses like hospital and surgery fees.
The new legislation will bring Singapore in line with similar practices in the United States and Britain where donors are financially compensated, according to Khaw.
The Singapore government proposed changing the law after the city-state's first known organ-trading case surfaced last year.
Retail tycoon Tang Wee Sung was jailed one day and fined S$17,000 Singapore dollars for entering into an illegal arrangement to buy a kidney for a transplant operation and falsely declaring the would-be donor was a distant relative. He eventually received a kidney from another donor.
Khaw had told parliament 26 people died last year in Singapore while waiting for a donor organ.