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TN orders fresh probe into irregularities in harvesting organs

A fresh probe is under way into alleged irregularities in the harvesting of organs from a brain-dead patient and the transplant of the organs on foreign nationals in 2018. The case involves a private medical college hospital in Salem and two hospitals in Chennai.

After the first inquiry report confirmed violations of the Transplantation of Human Organs & Tissues (HOTA) Act, 1994, and offences of forgery, cheating and criminal conspiracy involving some doctors and two former employees of the Transplant Authority of Tamil Nadu (TRANSTAN), the State government constituted a second committee to examine the findings of inquiry officer A. Thomas Prabhakar, the then Assistant Commissioner of Police, HOTA Act. While the second inquiry committee’s report was not made public, Health Department sources told The Hindu that a fresh probe was under way.

The inquiry was first ordered after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, seeking a probe into allegations made by the family of P. Manikandan of Palakkad an accident victim who was declared brain dead and his organs harvested in the hospital in Salem on May 20, 2018.

The State government had directed Prabhakar to conduct an inquiry and submit a report to the Director of Medical and Rural Health Services, Chennai.

The inquiry officer, after examining the doctors, Health Department staff, family members of the victim and others, submitted a report that established offences under HOTA Act and IPC. However, the then Director of Medical and Rural Health Services wrote to the Director of Medical Education seeking the setting up of a committee of experts to investigate the case.

A team of experts, comprising the Director/Head of the Department of Neurology, the Director/Head of Department of Neuro Surgery, the Director/Head of the Department of Anaesthesia and the Director/Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine of the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, Chennai, was formed to investigate the allegations and submit a report.

However, the State government, after perusing the second committee’s report, issued another order stating that the committee of experts had not furnished a detailed report on certain discrepancies/irregularities that were flagged in the report of the Assistant Commissioner of Police. On some issues, the findings of both the reports were contradictory, sources said.

“The State government had constituted a special team to examine the two reports and several emails received from TRANSTAN and other stakeholders on the allocation of the organs of Manikandan, and submit a report specifically flagging allegations, if any, with the government for appropriate action,” a senior official in the Health Department said.

Based on this, summonses have been issued to the individuals concerned to appear before the State Appropriate Authority, Transplantation of Human Organs Act, for an inquiry.

In his report, Prabhakar said that the chief operating officer of the Salem hospital “showed interest in pacifying the family members though they were not willing to donate the organs.”

On the allegation that Indian patients were overlooked and foreign nationals were given the heart and lung harvested from Manikandan, the inquiry officer, who had recorded statements of doctors and paramedical staff of two corporate hospitals in Chennai, concluded that the hospitals had transplanted the heart and the lung on Lebanese and Israeli patients.

Stating that the violation of HOTA was not unique to the Salem case, he recommended a probe into every organ transplant in Tamil Nadu.

Prabhakar, who retired as Additional Superintendent of Police, told The Hindu that he had done his job, and it was up to the system to act.

“I conducted a thorough investigation by examining witnesses and perusing records available on record and found there were gross violations of the rules in harvesting organs from the brain-dead patient and transplanting them on foreign nationals ignoring Indian patients battling for life on wait list. It has been four years since I submitted my final report recommending criminal action,” he said.

Prabhakar adding that he had offered himself to be examined by the special team as he had complete knowledge about the modus operandi of the accused.

Inquires in the Health Department revealed that senior doctors of the State government, including the then Member Secretary of TRANSTAN and others working in the corporate hospitals were summoned to depose before the special team.

On June 12, 2018, The Hindu had published a report “In Chennai, the hearts beat for foreigners” exposing alleged irregularities in the allocation of human organs to foreign nationals overlooking Indian patients. Weeks later, the National Organ Tissue Transplant Organisation (NOTTO), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, revised the guidelines of organ allocation making it difficult for foreigners to get organs from braindead patients. After the new guidelines came into force, the number of Indian patients getting life-saving organs went up by 56% compared to the previous years as per the data shared by TRANSTAN. The Hindu

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