Successful organ transplant sparks change in Korea's donation law

SEOUL - In response to a successful organ transplant for a 6-year-old girl, four additional organs will be added to the transplant list starting next month.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare drew up revised legislation on organ transplants and it passed the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Doctors will be able to transplant the stomach, duodenum, colon and spleen legally after the revision takes effect next month, on the condition that they are transplanted simultaneously with the small intestine.

Before the revision, there were only nine organs legally approved for transplant in Korea. The incident that led to the legislative revision was the surgery of Jo Eun-seo, who was 6 years old at the time.

Jo suffered from chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a rare disease where the digestive system does not engage in peristalsis, the muscular contractions that occur in the small intestine.

Because of this, she would throw up whatever food she ate and relied on IV drips for most of her nutrition. There are only about 10 people recorded in Korea with the condition. The only method of recovery is through organ transplants.

Last October, Jo was able to receive seven digestive organs from another child, and after a 9-hour surgery at the Seoul Asan Hospital received a liver, small intestine, pancreas, stomach, colon, duodenum and spleen.

Although the surgery was successful, transplanting the stomach, duodenum, colon and spleen was illegal in Korea at the time.

The pediatric department of Seoul Asan Hospital said while they knew the transplant of the organs in question was technically illegal, the procedure was necessary in order to save her life.

After the surgery, Jo remained healthy without any complications. She has reportedly gained weight and is able to eat normally, and only visits the hospital for routine checkups.

The four digestive organs had not been permitted for transplant due to the rarity of having to transplant them and a lack of medical skill to ensure a successful procedure.

However, after Jo's surgery, the Organ transplant Management Committee formed a consensus that the additional organs should also be permitted for transplant, which prompted the Ministry of Health and Welfare to revise the legislation.

The ministry added the condition that the digestive organs be transplanted simultaneously with the small intestine, as most digestive disorders that require a total replacement of the digestive system occurs when the small intestine is damaged.

Disorders in separate digestive systems are treated by surgically cutting off the damaged area because problems in other digestive organs alone do not improve with a transplant. However, the small intestine cannot be treated with surgical incisions, and therefore requires a transplant.

Permission for organ transplant in Korea has commonly been revised when medical demand and skill have made the laws outdated and there is a need for the treatment.