Organs for sale…
The word ‘trafficking’ is stereotypically prefaced with ‘sex’ or ‘drugs’ - far less frequently by the adjective ‘organ’. Often deemed a mere myth, organ trafficking is terrifyingly real and prolific around the world, despite having a lower profile. Indeed, like sex and drug trafficking, it targets the world’s most vulnerable. Organ trafficking is classically divided into two categories; those who willingly (although ignorant of the procedure and consequences) sell their organs, and those who have their organs stolen from them. The first example is rife in the poorest countries of the world; an estimated 250-300 people in Bangladesh sell their organs (mostly kidneys) for money each year. These victims are illegally exploited, often not paid what they are owed and are then plagued with severe health problems.
A case study conducted in Bangladesh, interviewed 33 kidney sellers who claimed they had never received their promised payment and all suffer from serious health issues. The study, which appears in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, reports that people selling their organs are
exploited by unethical brokers and recipients, who are often Bangladeshi-born foreign nationals living in places such as the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Since organ-selling is illegal, the brokers forge documents to prove the recipient and seller are related in order to disguise it as a family donation. Doctors, hospital officials and drug companies turn a blind eye to the criminal act as they profit along with the broker and, of course, the recipient. The organ brokers typically deceive the unwitting sellers through advertisements falsely promising rewards such as visas to the United States. This case study collated more than 1,200 similar newspaper adverts. The organ trade is thriving in Bangladesh, a country where 78 % of residents live on less than $2 a day; this case study collected 1,200 similar newspaper adverts; the average quoted price of a kidney is 100,000 taka ($1,400) - a figure that has gradually dropped due to an abundant supply from the poor majority. These gan traffickers purchase a kidney for $10,000 and profit from selling it on to the receiving patient for $150,000.
Then there are those who physically coerced and trafficked purely for their internal body parts that wake up one morning with severe pains and only later realise that they have been robbed from the inside. Like the cases in Bangladesh, this crime targets those who are innocent and vulnerable, sickeningly exploiting powerless people. In 2011, the Coalition for Organ Failure Solutions (COFS) in 2011, compiled a report on organ traffickers that have exploited and are continuing to exploit Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers in Egypt. These organ removals, often combined with sexual abuse, comprised extracting kidneys either by inducing consent, coercion, or theft. These victims, including men, women and children, who came to Egypt seeking refuge from the genocide and armed conflict in their homeland, were subjected to this vile abuse of their human rights. Based on its goingfieldwork, COFS-Egypt identified 57 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt who as victims of organ trafficking experienced the removal of a kidney. Some were heavily drugged and then operated on in makeshift surgeries, yet all reported a deterioration in their health as well as negative social, economic and psychological consequences’ as a result of their experience.
While the majority of the victims of organ trafficking in Egypt are of Egyptian nationality, COFS estimates that there are likely to be hundreds of Sudanese as well as numerous other victims from Jordan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, making the total number of victims of organ trafficking in Egypt in the thousands. Frighteningly, woman and girls are simultaneously being trafficked for their sex organs (9 out of the sample of 57). Not all these victims survive – this report of COFS does not detail those who have died as a result of a commercial organ removal.
More vigilance is needed on the part of governments, the medical community, and by doctors in checking the relationship between recipient and donor as well as the establishment of systems for enabling cadaveric donation in developing countries and also educational programmes raising awareness of this crime. Organ trafficking is not only fundamentally illegal; it is a horrendous and unforgivable abuse of human rights.
by Amelia Stewart