‘Getting to the Heart’ of the Organ Trafficking Industry

Organ donation is a much-needed act of kindness. The total number of organ transplants carried out in the period between April 2011 and March 2012 in the United Kingdom was 3,953 –an improvement upon the 3,725 transplants recorded in 2010/11. This represents an increase of 22.2% above the 2007/08 baseline. However, despite these improvements, over 10,000 people are currently in need of an organ transplant in the United Kingdom, and the number is steadily increasing. With a worldwide increase in demand for organs, illegal organ trafficking has become a vast and profitable industry.

The problem of organ trafficking has been prevalent since the medical organ transplant was introduced to the world. It is considered to be a stable and sustainable industry as long as the demand for organs exists in the world.Organ trafficking is defined as the “exploitative measures used in the processes of soliciting a donor in a commercial transplant. Exploitation is the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability”. The illegal organ trafficking market is prevalent throughout the world, but China and its South Asian neighbours have been experiencing a particularly high increase in organ trafficking –leading to a new industry of organ transplant tourism.

There are two main sources of the illegal organ trade. The most common is the voluntary donation of organs for financial compensation. Take the example of Mr. Lee, which demonstrates individual reasoning for voluntary involvement in the illicit industry. A 35-year-old man from Incheon, South Korea, Mr. Lee sold his kidney to settle his debts, and achieved this via online message boards and forums which made it easier for the transaction to take place. It has been reported that wealthy patients are paying up to £128,500 for a kidney. However, it has been reported that in China, India and Pakistan, individuals are selling their organs for less than £3,200. An anonymous medical expert has told the Guardian that rich foreigners mainly from the Middle East and Asia are the main customers for such markets. The second common source of the illegal industry is forced organ harvesting, and this is becoming more prevalent throughout Asia. Reports also suggest the harvesting of executed prisoner’s organs, which began in China in 1984, when a law was implemented to allow the practice. This unethical organ procurement gained an additional dimension, when in 2006 the Kilgour & Matas Report claimed that organs were harvested from living prisoners, mostly from detained Falun Gong practitioners. Furthermore, victims who appear healthy are kidnapped for organ theft; twenty-five-year old Xiaohai told his story to the Yangtze Evening Post on Sept. 18. Sent on a business trip by his new employer, Xiaohai was led under false pretences –he was taken to a hospital, and had one of his kidneys removed without consenting. Xiaohai’s story is one of many which expose how young people are victimised. It is alarming to see that such theft happens on a regular basis.

It is clear that the number of organ trafficking incidents is increasing, and is more prevalent throughout the world than ever before. Therefore, it is important that we acknowledge such a problem and implement more strict enforcement and legislation to discourage involvement in the industry. Organ trafficking, even when voluntary, is fundamentally unethical and illegal.

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