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Organ Trafficking in a Time of COVID

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The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

 Organ Trafficking in Egypt: ‘They locked me in and took my kidney’.

Indonesian woman shocked to find kidney had been removed after working in Qatar.

Pakistani police rescue 24 from organ trafficking gang.

The organ snatchers: Boy of 12 smuggled into the UK…for gang to sell his body parts on black market.

These are just four headlines of many across the world in recent years, highlighting the increasing global menace of organ trafficking. When people trafficking first began to come to public attention, many dismissed the issue as a myth. In 2009 Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, commented, ‘…many governments are still in denial. There is … neglect when it comes to either reporting on or prosecuting cases of human trafficking.

If such denial still applies to human trafficking as a whole, the ignorance and indifference to recognising organ trafficking as a serious problem is far higher, even, or perhaps especially, amongst healthcare workers (eg see this paper in the European Journal of Criminology). The crime is widespread, however, and denial only aids its spread. Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that 10 per cent of all organ transplants, including lungs, heart and liver, are carried out with trafficked organs. However, the most frequently trafficked organs are kidneys. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10,000 kidneys are traded on the black market worldwide annually, or more than one every hour. If any readers of this blog are sceptical that forced organ harvesting and organ trafficking are a reality, then either reading the judgement of the 2020 UK independent China Tribunal or seeing and hearing some of the harrowing testimony presented to it should be enough in itself to dispel any doubts.

Though China claims it abandoned forced removal of organs from prisoners in 2015, the continuing extent of the practice is undeniable in view of the statistics. The BMA recently noted that China’s latest figures show that 20,201 patients received organ transplants in 2018 from around 6,302 donors. The range accepted by the China Tribunal numbers is 60,000 to 90,000 transplants a year. The BMA concluded, ‘China insists it does not harvest organs from prisoners, but the only way to be sure is to have an independent investigation.

This conclusion is made all the more urgent given reports from China in January 2020 of a double lung transplant carried out on a patient suffering from COVID-19. The COVID pandemic, in many ways, added fuel to the fire of organ trafficking. Transplant surgery rates fell. The disease affected multiple organs, especially the lungs and kidneys; the poor were disproportionately hit economically and became even more vulnerable to exploitation from traffickers. The increase in global social media platforms greatly facilitated communications for exploitation. Whilst organ transplant waiting times increased in most countries as donor numbers fell, and the average wait for a suitable lung donor is years, the Chinese media reported that matched lungs for the COVID patient were obtained within days from a brain dead patient.

Forced organ harvesting and trafficking is a crime that can only occur with the collusion of doctors and other healthcare staff. CMF members globally should be vigilant and report suspicions of removal or transplantation of trafficked organs. Those wanting to combat the practice should engage with groups such as the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China or Freedom United. Those seeking further training on the issue will find more information from groups such as Vita in the UK or Relentless in the US.

One of the most chilling examples of dehumanisation in the New Testament is found in the denunciation of Babylon in Revelation. A long list of merchandise concludes with ‘cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves’ (Revelation 18:13). Where people created in God’s image are traded like chattels, to be sold or carved up like meat, it is time for those who claim to follow the incarnate Christ to take action.

 

Trevor Stammers is Editor in Chief of The New Bioethics

 

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