Originally published June 11 2007
Organ transplant industry pushes for legal right to buy and sell body parts on the global market
by Staff writer
The World Health Organization (WHO) held its second Global Consultation on Transplantation recently in Rotterdam. The WHO addressed the global shortage of human organs available for transplantation as well as a trend toward "transplant tourism" -- the buying and selling of body parts in the global marketplace with the most sought-after organ being the kidney.
In "transplant tourism" patients pay varying amounts of money to receive kidneys in poor countries. Payments for donors range from $500 in Iraq to $1,000 in India and $5,000 in Turkey, according to reports about organ sales on the black market.
Some attending the conference wholeheartedly endorsed a free market in body parts. "It is morally wrong to continue to let patients suffer and die on dialysis when we can do something to prevent it," said Arthur Matas, a University of Minnesota transplant surgeon. Those who defend bans on transplant tourism "are sentencing some of our transplantation candidates to death," he argued in a plea for a regulated market in organs. "Prohibiting the poor from selling a kidney still leaves them poor and removes one possible option to improve their lives," he added.
The United States banned kidney sales in 1984. At that time some 8,500 patients were on a transplant waiting list of about one year. Today an estimated 70,000 are waiting for kidneys, and the waiting time is five years or more, Matas said.
Matas was in a minority among speakers who warned a market system would discourage voluntary, altruistic donations. Gabriel Danovitch, a University of California at Los Angeles transplant surgeon, stated half of the waiting patients in Hong Kong received kidneys for transplant from altruistic donors before Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. "When Hong Kong could buy kidneys in China, live donations fell to 15 percent," he said.
The demand has led to a market in which the poor sell kidneys to the rich in what Netherlands Health Council adviser Michael Bos called "medical apartheid."
WHO members agreed: "Human organs are not spare parts," said Dr. Howard Zucker, assistant director-general of health technology and pharmaceuticals of WHO, "No one can put a price on an organ which is going to save someone's life."
"Nonexistent or lax laws on organ donation and transplantation encourage commercialism and transplant tourism," said Dr. Luc Noel, in charge of transplantation at WHO, "If all countries agree on a common approach, and stop commercial exploitation, then access will be more equitable and we will have fewer health tragedies."
"The legalization of organ trading on the global market would create a monstrous industry of human misery and suffering, where innocents are labeled criminals and killed for their organs so that organ transplant profiteers can make a fortune while claiming they're saving lives," said Mike Adams, author of Natural Health Solutions and the Conspiracy to Keep You From Knowing About Them, "The organ transplant industry claims this move would save more lives, and it may, but it would also coincidentally ensure future revenues of organ transplant surgeons, anti-rejection drug manufacturers and surgical facilities -- all of which profit from the trade of body parts."
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