The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has welcomed the life sentence against organ traffickers as proposed in the Uganda Human Organ and Transplant Bill, 2021.
Appearing before Parliament’s Committee on Health on Wednesday, the commission’s director Monitoring and Inspection, Ruth Ssekindi noted that life imprisonment for human organs traffickers is befitting.
“The penalties you raised in section 86 of the bill are okay; as a commission we are okay with the penalty that any person who sells a single organ faces life imprisonment,” she said.
Ssekindi supported a proposed Shs2 billion penalty for persons engaged in negotiations to trade in human organs terming it a good deterrent against the practice.
“We said who pays Shs2 billion; is there anyone who can afford it on their own? But because the vice is punitive, as a commission we are fine, we think that is good to have it in our law,” said Ssekindi.
UHRC recommends that organ donation should remain voluntary to eliminate chances of commercializing it and the likely violations of people’s rights.
The commission observed that in Uganda, human organs have for long been unlawfully transplanted, donated and even stolen because of lack of laws to regulate the activity.
Legislators and the commission were however, divided on the modalities of withdrawal of consent by the donor as proposed in the Bill.
UHRC recommended that a donor should be free to withdraw consent at any moment before the procedure, which MPs said could put the recipient’s health at risk.
“A person should be able to revoke their consent any time before the procedure starts. What if they have promised your mother a house and you will not tell this to the doctor but at the 11th hour you realize your life is in danger, shouldn’t I be allowed to say no?” asked Ssekindi
Esther Mbayo the MP for Luuka District said the committee will need to consult widely about withdraw of consent recognising the need to safeguard the rights and health of both the donor and recipient.
“We were told by the expert that it takes only two hours for the process to be done. If the donor withdraws consent what happens to the recipient who has already started opening up to receive the organ?” she said.
Monica Kyamazima, a member of Uganda Law Society (ULS) guided that the law should provide clear information on consent and that the donor should be made to understand the possible risks before consent.
“If consent is freely given, it may freely be revocable; if we have an operation that is so sensitive that the decision can’t be rescinded then that information must be given to the donor way in advance before they offer consent,” said Kyamazima.
UHRC commissioner, Shifrah Lukwago is doubtful about the country’s technical capabilities to handle organ transplants.
“The bill once enacted will apply to donations and transplant of kidneys, hearts, lungs, liver and pancreas….the commission is concerned about the readiness of government to undertake such massive and highly technical and specialized surgeries,” she said.
Committee vice-chairperson, Joel Ssebikali said once enacted into law, it will be implemented in a phased manner starting with operations in organs where the expertise is available.