This post was first published in TH!NK ABOUT IT site 2nd March 2009.
Market economy and free trade are the prevailing trend in today’s developed countries. One drastic phenomenon of its darker side is known as “medical apartheid” or the “New Cannibalism”. One of those cases in Europe got more light last week, when new evidence from the “Human Organ Trafficking” -case came public in Serbia. (More about case in my article “War crime selected – organ harvesting from Serbs by KLA“).
The story about harvesting organs from captured Serbs by Kosovo Albanian guerrillas 1998-99 was kept undercover by western mainstream media until last April 2008 before former UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte opened her mouth. Reportages of German Der Spiegel magazine and British The Guardian followed, justice departments from Albania and Serbia started high level cooperation for case. Also Council of Europe decided to re-examine the case, which maybe has also link to illegal organ transplant clinic raided in Pristina, Kosovo, early November 2008. (More e.g. Der Spiegel)
It is believed KLA kidnapped the victims, and then secretly transported them to camps in northern Albania, where their vital organs were removed to be sold in the black market. Carla Del Ponte gave greater credence of a macabre operation, in which as many as 300 Serbs were abducted and transported to Albania to have their organs removed. In a memoir, she wrote: “Victims deprived of only their kidney were sewn up and confined again inside the shack until they were killed for their vital organs.”
The Serbian War Crimes Prosecution has so far identified 10 members of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) suspected of killing kidnapped Serb civilians. Those suspects identified, prosecution spokesman Bruno Vekarić said in Belgrade on 25th Wednesday , are linked with the case of decapitated soldiers, “which has been publicized by the news media”. (Source B92, Beta, Tanjug)
The prosecution (of Serbia) will send an official report to authorized institutions in Albania in order to inform them of the investigation’s new evidence. The prosecution now intends to present this new evidence to the Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty, who is due there March and also to chief prosecutor of Eulex mission in Kosovo to catch suspected persons. This may be more difficult as both Kosovo’s present and former Prime Ministries (commanders of KLA and best friends and allies of West) presumably have been involved in case.
European Union started to show more interest into illegal organ trade on 2006 when few MEPs raised a question in European Parliament about Chinese Communist Party’s Organ Harvesting 2006. There was a good base for suspicion about the Chinese regime’s “organ harvesting,” the name for the fatal removal and sale of organs from death row prisoners and from Falun Gong practitioners held for their beliefs. (More e.g. here )
EP was also considering Olympic boycott due the case already Summer 2006. Edward McMillan-Scott, vice president of the EP had straight talks in China and he believed that nearly 400 hospitals in China shared the lucrative trade in transplant organs, with websites advertising new kidneys for $60,000. (Source)
Last year EP was calling on satellite company Eutelsat to resume broadcast of an independent Chinese-language television network into China. MEPs pointed out three areas of pressing concern for human rights in China, including the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group, the suppression of rights in Tibet and third the Chinese regime’s “organ harvesting,”.
There are about 95,000 people waiting for kidney transplants in the United States and about 65,000 in Europe, said Michael Bos of the Netherlands Health Council. Annual transplant rates run about 25,000 in the United States and 16,000 in Europe. “Something like 10,000 kidneys are transplanted every year from living donors who are paid sometimes small amounts,” Bos said, calling the situation “a kind of medical apartheid.” “This goes from the poor to the rich, from underdeveloped to rich countries, from black and coloured people to whites and often from women to men.”
U.S. and European laws ban the sale of human organs and most tissue for transplant is taken fresh from the cadavers of the newly deceased. A smaller amount also comes from live donors, mostly people giving to save the life of a relative or friend. But these supplies cannot expand to meet the demand, which is booming as medical advances make transplantation more reliable and illnesses cause more cases of kidney failure. (Source: article in Javno newsportal Apr 2nd 2007)
The U.N. World Health Oranization estimates one-fifth of the 70,000 kidneys transplanted around the world each year come from the black market.
The Geneva-based WHO believes that “transplant tourism” is rising, as rich patients bypassed bans on buying organs at home by travelling abroad to receive kidneys from poor donors. Beside kidneys also trafficking of half-livers, eyes, skin and blood is flourishing. (More e.g. UPI Jan 12th 2009)
Below: Kidney prices in different countries:
The organ trafficking is negotiated by an elaborate network of criminals. For about $150,000, an organ broker connects a buyer and seller to a “broker-friendly” U.S. hospital, where surgeons are either complicit in the scheme or willing to turn a blind eye. The organ seller typically gets a few thousand dollars, plus a chance to see a U.S. city.
Reputable U.S. medical centers transplant kidneys and other human organs they get illegally through the black market, a university anthropologist asserts. Surgeons take black-market kidneys from people in the world’s most impoverished slums and put them into wealthy dialysis patients from the United States, Europe and and Israel, Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California at Berkeley told Newsweek. (Source Newsweek 10th Jan 2009)
The transplant tourism goes also opposite direction e.g. to China. One example about this global business and tourism is a case, when a New Yorker paid $60,000 to receive a kidney in a South African hospital from a Brazilian who was paid $6,000 for it; an Israeli businessman set up the deal.
The bottom line
With organ trafficking one can see inequality at its cruellest form. The main discriminative feature is between wealthy upper-class and the rest of the population. The other distinctive line goes between developed rich countries and the rest of the world.
Transplantation is a growing problem in rich states because waiting lists are growing far faster than the supply of organs. Adding the trend of changing population-structure in developed countries one can easily estimate that the need of new transplants is growing creating bigger market for illegal organ trade.
Is there anything to stop this trend? Short term I don’t believe so. Future can however change situation when research brings new solutions e.g. through gene, stem cell or material innovations. Even then the problem is who can pay these new treatments.