Organ Transplants Offered to Rich Tourists / Dora Leonor Mesa

Extracts from the article “Organ Trafficking: A Dark and Atrocious Business”

By Mónica López Ferrado

Users of transplant tourism come from all over the world. “As long as it’s offered there will be demand,” laments Luc Noel. From his office in the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, he directs international efforts to eradicate the commerce in organs. Many times a transplant is the only alternative for someone. Furthermore, survival rates are 45 years for a kidney, 38 for a liver, and 29 for a heart. But this success has created its own demons: the difference between theoretical possibilities and the scarce availability of organs.

Ten percent of the world’s transplants come from illegal commerce, according to WHO’s statistics. Countries like Pakistan, India, Philippines, China, Egypt, Rumania, Moldavia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica facilitate organ transplants for the ill in rich countries.

Political prisoners, people who live in extreme poverty, or political refugees are exploited as the best source of organs for patient-tourists. Kidneys are sold the most. Also portions of the liver, heart, and lungs in countries where commerce is done with cadavers, as occurs in China.

“The market in organs benefits only rich people,” says Luc Noel. On his agenda there is one date in May: the General Assembly of WHO will vote on a resolution to govern the global effort against transplant tourism. “We need the collaboration of professionals, governments, and scientific societies.”

During the international summit on transplant tourism and organ trafficking, convened in 2008 by the International Transplant Society and the International Nephrology Society, 152 representatives of public institutions and medical and scientific organizations from 48 countries reached a consensus in the Declaration of Istanbul.

Among other things, it states that organ trafficking and transplant tourism violate the principles of equality, justice, and respect for human dignity and should be prohibited, and the declaration urges that every government create a legal framework that includes penalties for those who participate in these activities and which prohibits all type of advertising and offers of organs.

This declaration also touches on the delicate question of compensation for the living donors. Always based on the principle that an organ can’t have a price, it admits that donors can be compensated for the damage that can be caused by their altruistic decisions.

There are supporters in the United States of the buying and selling of organs with oversight, which would permit, according to them, an increase in donations and a dismantling of the illegal business. “I completely disagree; ethically, the human body can’t be an object of commercialization under any concept,” concludes Matesanz from the ONT.

“Those who argue against this consider that in a modern society you can’t permit someone in a situation of poverty to have to sell an organ. Those who argue in favor say that the State should regulate it. One of every 3,500 donors can die; it’s the same risk that we all take of dying in a car accident,” explains Guirado, a nephrologist with the Puigvert Foundation in Barcelona.

Francis Delmonico, an assessor with the World Health Organization and president of the Organ TransplantProcurement Network, has met with governments like China or the Philippines with the goal of resolving the legal vacuum that makes this commerce possible. And to help them to establish their own donation programs.

“The commerce in organs threatens to destroy the noble legacy of the transplant,” says Delmonico. He explains that in China, for example, in 2006, they extracted organs from some 4,000 executed prisoners, which made a total of 8,000 kidneys and 3,000 livers, principally for foreign patients.

The Chinese government approved in March 2007 an order penalizing this practice. They closed three hospitals, but they don’t have control over everything. And even less over the military health centers. Delmonico is sure that patients continue to travel to China.

Translated by Regina Anavy