Tuesday, 29 May 2012


“Each one sees what he carries in his heart” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was with horror that I read in one of our papers a report regarding organ trafficking, which apparently is rife in developing countries. The illegal trade in kidneys has risen to such a level that an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving purchased human organs now take place annually, or more than one an hour, World Health Organisation experts have disclosed.

People in need of a kidney transplant are reported to have paid up to $200,000 in countries such as China, India and Pakistan, where organs are harvested from vulnerable people who may receive as little as $5,000. It is reported that an organ broker in China advertised his services using the slogan “Donate a kidney, buy an iPad”, saying that the operation could be performed within 10 days. Kidney transplants account for about of 75% of illegal organ transplantations.

There is an increased demand for organs, especially kidneys, in Western countries as people are living longer, and disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are causing kidney failure in larger numbers of people. At the same time, organ donation rates amongst the population are remaining steady or even falling, the local supply not being able to keep up with the demand. The result is that the illegal trade benefits the wealthy Western patients who can afford to pay for the organs, is a lucrative trade for the doctors and hospital administrators who perform the operation and of course the middlemen and the traffickers make a killing...

Selling kidneys and other organs is illegal in many countries, and comes with great risks. Performing even a legitimate transplant is an incredibly complex procedure involving scrupulous medical tests and a range of measures to prevent infection and organ rejection. Purchasing a kidney from the black market offers no guarantees about the quality of the organ supplied or patient safety. It is advised that illegally purchasing a kidney should not be considered by those in need of a transplant, as it places them at great risk, with possibly even a fatal outcome.

WHO officials say that there had been a decrease in “transplant tourism” back in 2006 and 2007, but it is now evident that “trade may well be increasing again” given the stakes are so high for potential recipients and the huge profits that such desperation can produce for criminal gangs. The reality of the situation is that donors are putting themselves at great risk for a small amount of money and/or goods, driven to this by economic hardship. It may even be simpler than that – a simple desire to attain some of the goods of Western technological development, such as a smartphone or a tablet computer. The pressures from the West on vulnerable developing country citizens is twofold: Huge advertising and marketing of commodities that are attainable to the great majority of Western citizens and out of reach for the great majority of Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Afghanis, etc; and then the great pressure to engage in illegal organ trafficking, seen as a means to attain these by the ordinary citizen of a developing country.

The ethics of this illegal organ trade is fraught with moral dilemmas. A parent seeing their child dying because of lack of a suitable donor kidney and being unable to donate one himself/herself may go to almost any length to procure a suitable organ. Someone who is wealthy and has the means to pay for an illegally obtained organ may have few qualms if their life is at risk. Being quite detached, geographically and socially from the plight of the poor citizens of developing countries is enough for many people to accept without too many questions an illegal organ. Other individuals who travel to a foreign country in order to avail themselves of an illegal organ transplant, the so-called “organ tourists”, may not have second thoughts about the morality of what they are doing. Some may even argue that they are doing “good” by injecting funds into the coffers of poorer people/countries.

As well as being illegal, for me, the ethics of this organ trade is deplorable. To place another human being at risk in order to save one’s own life or simply to make one’s life more comfortable is not a valid excuse. I have nominated myself as an organ donor after my death and I think that this is the answer for our woes – to convince more of our fellows to do this. If left unchecked, illegal organ trade will escalate to become a threat to basic human values and compromise our humanity. One even hears of extreme cases of children being abducted from developing countries in order to have their organs harvested for transplant. And in this case we are not talking of a single kidney, but rather the killing of a child to supply heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, eyes to a group of recipients…

Our consumer society is making everything a commodity to be sold and bought at a price. Today it is human organs, what will we see in the future? The return of slavery? Selling of people as “mat for consumption” to satisfy the appetites of deranged, rich cannibals? Some things are illegal because they threaten our social fabric and our basic human and moral values. Illegal organ transplant should be stamped out and instead we should be looking at increasing the level of organ donation. In Australia, we still have a small proportion of people donating their organs after their demise, especially when compared with similar statistics internationally (see: http://www.transplant.org.au/Statistic_s.html). A number of ways of raising public awareness and having the drivers license system linked to the Australian Organ Donor Register (AODR) or sending out ADOR forms when a first-time driver obtains their license are just some strategies. We need to do more in this area…

1 comment:

  1. death is a dilemma for some unable to part with parts within.... and for others it's the money that's to be made... yes, deplorable... unethical and all those other bad places we as humans partake in... desperate for things we take for granted some have no other choice but to sell their parts.... but to steal thief and rob... god help us.... thanks for stoppin by...