organ trafficking, human organ trafficking
Wheeling News Register/Scott McCloskey

Report Indicates Organ Trafficking a Growing Problem Worldwide

January 21, 2009 09:45 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Recent scholarship shows that organ trafficking, a clandestine practice once largely considered a myth, is becoming a growing concern globally.

Tracing Organ Trafficking

Anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes spent more than a decade studying organ trafficking in several countries. She’s tracked the problem in South Africa, Brazil and the United States.

Organ trafficking is generally orchestrated by a criminal network that connects organ buyers, sellers and “broker friendly” hospitals where surgeons either look beyond the organ selling or simply agree to participate in the process. According to Newsweek, the World Health Organization has estimated that one-fifth of the 70,000 kidneys transplanted globally each year are from the black market.

“People all over were telling me that they didn’t have to go to a Third World hospital, but could get the surgery done in New York, Philadelphia or Los Angeles,” Scheper-Hughes told Newsweek. “At top hospitals, with top surgeons.”

The WHO says organ trafficking is “fuelled by growing demand as well as unscrupulous traffickers.” People are living longer, and medical technology has improved to help diagnose conditions like kidney failure more quickly. Simply, some countries have more people who need organs than they do organ donors.

In a FOX News Health Blog, Dr. Manny Alvarez wrote, “So it amazes me if this is true—that physicians which take the oath of ‘do not harm’ could be facing allegations of human tissue trafficking.”

Some individuals, the organization stated, are paid just $1,000 for an organ like a kidney, and Alvarez said such actions undermine international efforts toward organ donation.

“Trafficking of illegal organs in unregulated countries is a major insult to the great need and international coordination for legitimate organ transplant programs around the world,” he argued.

The problem may not correct itself any time soon. Newsweek reported that by 2010, people needing a kidney could be forced to wait 10 years for an organ. “Most dialysis patients die in half that time, and the desperate don’t always play by the rules.”

What Makes People Sell an Organ?

Most often, organ trafficking is motivated by desperation. In 2008, Scheper-Hughes told The Associated Press, “Most victims of kidney trafficking are coerced by need, not by physical force.” She cited an instance in Brazil of people competing to be selected as organ donors by stuffing $10 bills in a broker’s pocket.

But there are documented instances of force as well. A man in India was accused of taking organs from hundreds of individuals by force, and sometimes at gunpoint.

Opinion: Paying for organs

In the most recent draft of “Guiding Principles” for organ transplants, the WHO “included the idea of a worldwide ban on the trade in organs.” The draft is set to go before the full assembly for approval in June 2009. While some say legalizing the sale of organs could lead to the exploitation of some groups, others worry that a considerable shortage on organs could become an even worse problem than it already is, according to The Economist.

In 2007, more than 7,000 people in the United States were waiting for an organ transplant when they died. And a WHO estimate has indicated that for people waiting just for a new kidney, only one in 10 will receive one. “Small wonder that people scour the globe to procure the organs they or their loved ones need; or that unscrupulous intermediaries offer help,” the paper claimed.

Related Topic: Questionable organ donations

In February 2008, a California surgeon was accused of hastening the death of a patient in order to retrieve his liver and kidneys. Prosecutors for Rosa Navarro, the mother of deceased patient Ruben Navarro, alleged that Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh gave her son excessive doses of drugs to speed up what most doctors agree was an impending death from a debilitating neurological disease.

This year, a Long Island surgeon made headlines for demanding in divorce proceedings that his wife return the kidney he donated to her or pay him $1.5 million in compensation. Dr. Richard Batista donated the kidney in 2001; he alleges that 18 months to two years later, his wife Dawnell began having an affair with her personal therapist. In 2005, the two began their divorce proceeding, which has become bitter over the three and a half years it has dragged on. Dr. Batista’s case has a slim chance of succeeding because organs cannot be bought or sold in the United States.

Reference: Organ donations


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