International study launched in attempt to fight illegal organ trafficking as industry continues to thrive
By End the Lie
While organ trafficking is indeed quite illegal, the practice is thriving due to a chronic shortage of much-needed organs, leading to an international research project led by Netherland’s Erasmus Medical Center.
The practice of selling organs support in some unlikely sectors, evidenced by Scottish academic Sue Rabbitt Roff arguing that students should be allowed to sell their kidneys to pay off student loan debt.
The newly launched research project is aimed at improving the world’s fight against human trafficking for organ removal and to “assess the knowledge on this relatively new type of serious crime so as to be able to improve efforts to combat it,” according to a press release from Erasmus Medical Center.
“Institutions from Romania, Sweden, Bulgaria and Spain as well as the European Police Office, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Eurotransplant and the European Society for Organ Transplantation (ESOT) will be involved in the project,” according to Michael Cook of BioEdge.
Indeed it appears that this project is more necessary than ever since, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “The illegal trade in kidneys has risen to such a level that an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving purchased human organs now take place annually, or more than one an hour,” as the British Guardian reported earlier this year.
The profit incentive is massive, since desperate people will give up their kidneys to gangs for as little as $5,000. The gangs then harvest the organs and sell them for up to $200,000 to patients traveling to countries like China, India and Pakistan, according to the Guardian.
In August of this year, BioEdge reported, “Chinese police have arrested 137 people, including 18 doctors, in the latest crackdown on human organ trafficking.”
Some 127 so-called “organ suppliers” (read: human beings so desperate and vulnerable that they have resorted to selling off parts of their body) were rescued in raids in late July alone, according to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
“According to government figures some 1.5 million Chinese patients require transplants each year but only 10,000 legally approved transplants take place,” according to the Telegraph.
While China used to harvest organs from executed prisoners, Haibo Wang, the director of the China Organ Transplant Response System Research Center of the Ministry of Health, told WHO that they are going to change the system.
“While we cannot deny the executed prisoner’s right to donate organs, an organ transplantation system relying on death-row prisoners’ organs is not ethical or sustainable,” he said.
While China’s attempts to rectify the situation are admirable, there is still a massive worldwide demand for illegally obtained human organs.
“Medical advances have opened up new opportunities to the traffickers, with doctors now able to take parts of the liver and lungs from living donors,” reports Germany’s Der Spiegel.
“According to United Nations figures, some 10,000 kidneys are illegally transplanted each year, although some experts believe that the number could be as high as 20,000,” continues Der Spiegel. “And with both an expanding and aging global population, the demand for organs continues to grow.”
Even the larger estimate cited by Der Spiegel cannot be trusted since “little is known about how often it occurs and how criminal organizations, physicians and others involved operate,” according to the Erasmus press release.
Unfortunately, this problem is also rampant in the United States, evidenced by a case of organ trafficking that came to light last year.
“Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, 60, said he had helped secure the organs from people in Israel for U.S.-based customers in exchange for payments of $120,000 or more,” CBS reported.
The new research project will run for three years and according to Erasmus Medical Center will “be led by Prof. Willem Weimar and criminologist/international lawyer Frederike Ambagtsheer of the Nephrology and Transplantation department of Erasmus MC.”
The findings of the project will be presented in an international conference in 2014 which will include all of the institutions involved in the research. This meeting will include “international investigative bodies, transplantation experts as well as human rights and development cooperation organizations that will have to create awareness [of] this type of serious crime.”
According to Erasmus MC, this is “the first time that a hospital has taken the initiative in setting up such a research project on human trafficking for organ removal. It is also the first time that the European Commission financially supports such a study.”
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