The Standing Committee on the Cabinet Secretariat approved on Wednesday a bill aimed at curbing the sale and purchase of human organs.

Introduced by MQM’s Kishwer Zehra, the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues (Amendment) Bill, 2014 is now ready to be debated and voted upon by the National Assembly.

The lack of readily available organs for transplant has been a consistent problem in Pakistan – although it has been one that has stayed out of the national news cycle. Pakistani patients are forced to go to other countries for treatment – an inconvenient and expensive option. Those who can’t afford it delve into a flourishing black market trade, which has spawned its own ring of illegal activities. However this issue was only voiced in medical circles and public pressure for change was minimal. In these conditions for the parliament to legislate on a matter without an external push is commendable.

The proposal to have people declare on their National Identity Cards if they wish to be organ donors and which organs they want to donate will smooth the procedure of donation – previously donors had to make a declaration on their wills. Having to make a decision when applying for your card may prompt many to opt for being a donor, however without a culture of donation social and religious taboos will always intrude.

This policy needs to be followed up by active campaigning that changes the narrative on organ donation and encourages people to be altruistic. Similarly the government needs to find a credible way of countering the religious narrative that still talks about the ‘sanctity of the body’ – which stands at odds with modern medical practice. A legal and readily available pool of organs is the only surefire way of countering the black market.