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...
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.
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
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
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…