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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) — A new law presuming that Brazilians will donate their organs unless they state otherwise has sowed public confusion and appears to have dampened interest among would-be organ donors.
The Federal Medical Council announced Wednesday that it would sue to have the new law declared unconstitutional because it abridges the right of choice and exposes the poor to exploitation.
Several senators also denounced the government from the Senate floor Wednesday for not using the eight months between the law’s passage and the time it went into effect to better educate the public.
The law, among the most liberal in the world, was written to address the grave shortage of available organs in Brazil: In 1996, fewer than 2,700 transplants were performed, even though more than 100,000 people were awaiting organs, according to the Health Ministry.
Public confusion over the law, which is only a week old, has been the subject of numerous talk shows and newspaper articles; President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has taken to the airwaves to defend the measure.
Thousands of Brazilians have been lining up in government offices across the country to be registered as non-donors.
People must get the words “non-donor” stamped on their driver’s licenses or identity cards. If they do not, they will be put on a donor list and their families can be sued if they try to block a transplant.
According to a poll conducted by the Datafolha organization, only 63 percent of Brazilians now want to give their organs, down from 75 percent in 1995.
The poll, with a margin of error of four percentage points, also found that 70 percent of those asked believe the family of the deceased should be notified before organs are donated — something the new law prohibits.
Doctors and clergymen have raised concerns that the poor and uneducated, who are largely unaware of their rights, could be exploited under the law.
“The big problem in a country like ours, where people must fight to have their basic rights respected, is that this opens a door for manipulation,” says Leo Pessini, head of the Pastoral Health Commission of Brazil’s Roman Catholic Church.
At the same time, there is a suspicion among ordinary Brazilians that — in a country known for its dearth of regulations and lack of consistent law enforcement — organs removed under the new law could be diverted to a lucrative black market.
The Health Ministry says critics have it backward: The law will prevent manipulation by increasing the supply of available organs.
Health Ministry consultant Edelberto Luiz da Silva says the new law contains ample safeguards against abuses. For example, a national list of available organs and patients awaiting transplants will ensure that no one “jumps” the line, although that list won’t be ready for two years.