Prosecutors to begin investigating 'right away'

TAIPEI - The Taipei Prosecutors Office said Tuesday it has assigned a prosecutor with a medical-education background to investigate a case involving the transplants of organs from a single HIV-infected donor into five patients at two local hospitals.

Wang Wen-teh, spokesman for the office, said the case might be an indictable offense based on Article 11 of the HIV Infection Control and Patient Rights Protection Act, which requires medical institutions to conduct HIV tests before proceeding with any organ or tissue transplant.

Violators face fines ranging between NT$30,000 (US$1,034.48) and NT$150,000 (US$5,172) in accordance with Article 22 of the act, Wang said.

If a flawed transplant leads to a recipient developing an HIV infection, those involved in such an operation could be given prison terms ranging from three to 10 years, he added.

Fines, jail terms possible

In the country's first-ever case involving the transplant of organs from an HIV carrier, hospitals will only be fined if nobody is confirmed to be infected with HIV from the procedures, Wang explained.

"While it takes time to determine whether anybody has contracted HIV in this case, we need to start the investigation right away," Wang said.

The prosecutor's office has asked the DOH to provide all relevant data and information as health care institutions are obligated to inform the DOH of organ donation and transplant cases, he said.

"We need to check medical institutions' regular standard operating procedures (SOP) for organ donations and transplants," Wang said, adding that those who will be summoned for questioning include the individuals responsible for removing organs, reporting the HIV test results, verifying the results and approving the transplant surgery.

Lu Chun-ju, a graduate of National Taiwan University's Department of Medical Technology who has been assigned to investigate the case, said no specific individuals have so far been targeted as suspects.

"For the moment, I will focus on collecting facts related to the incident," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, patients or their families are entitled to file damage suits against the medical institution.