Nancy Scheper-Hughes

Organ trafficking is still a protected crime

Nancy Scheper-Hughes
By Nancy Scheper-Hughes
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September 3, 2013 (MercatorNet) - Organ trafficking and illicit transplant surgeries have infiltrated global medical practice. But despite the evidence of widespread criminal networks and several limited prosecutions in countries including India, Kosovo, Turkey, Israel, South Africa and the US, it is still not treated with the seriousness it demands.

Since the first report into the matter in 1990, there has been an alarming number of post-operative deaths of “transplant tour” recipients from botched surgeries, mismatched organs and high rates of fatal infections, including HIV and Hepatitis C contracted from sellers' organs. Living kidney sellers suffer from post-operative infections, weakness, depression, and some die from suicide, wasting, and kidney failure. Organs Watch documented five deaths among 38 kidney sellers recruited from small villages in Moldova.

Distressing stories lurk in the murky background of today’s business of commercialised organ transplantation, conducted in a competitive global field that involves some 50 nations. The World Health Organisation estimates 10,000 black market operations happen each year.

The organ trade network

As I wrote in Living Donor Organ Transplants, the sites of illicit transplant have expanded from Asia to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and the US. All are facilitated by local criminal networks but those run by organised global criminal syndicates are the most dangerous, mobile, and widespread. They are also the most difficult to trace and to interrupt.

The trade involves a network of human traffickers including mobile surgeons, brokers, patients, and sellers who meet for clandestine surgeries involving cut-throat deals that are enforced with violence, if needed. Many of the “kidney hunters” are former sellers, recruited by crime bosses into the tight web of transplant trafficking schemes.

Sellers include poor nationals, new immigrants, global guest workers, or political and economic refugees recruited from abroad to serve the needs of transplant tourists in countries that tolerate or actively facilitate the illegal transplant trade.

Until recently this all went unnoticed. There is considerable resistance among transplant professionals who see trafficking as relatively rare and which only takes place in third world countries. They were loathe to recognise the involvement of transplant trafficking schemes in the US as well as in South African hospitals – not to mention transplant tourism packages.

Bioethicists argue endlessly about the “ethics” of what is actually a crime and a medical human rights abuse.

Turning up the heat

In 2008, the climate of denial began to change when The Transplantation Society (and the International Society of Nephrology), held a major summit which acknowledged organ trafficking as a reality. Moral pressure was then put on countries actively involved in organised and disorganised international schemes to recruit paid, living donors.

Despite this, criminal networks of brokers and transplant trafficking schemes are still robust, exceedingly mobile, resilient, and generally one step ahead of the game. Meanwhile, one economic or political crisis after another has also supplied the market with countless refugees that fall like ripe fruit into the hands of organ traffickers. The desperate, displaced and dispossessed can be found and recruited to sell a spare kidney in almost any nation.

Who gets what?

Human trafficking for organs is still generally seen as a victimless crime that benefits some very sick people at the expense of other, more invisible – or at least dispensable – people. And some prosecutors and judges treat it as such.

In 2009, New Jersey federal agents arrested kidney trafficker Levy Izhak Rosenbaum as part of a larger police sting of corrupt politicians. Rosenbaum, a self-styled “matchmaker” as he described himself in taped conversations, was caught trying to arrange the private sale of a kidney from a donor in Israel to an undercover FBI agent for $160,000 (£100,000).

The hospitals where the Rosenbaum operations were arranged were prestigious and despite it being illegal to trade organs in the US since 1984, many don’t ask enough questions. Indeed, Rosenbaum claimed he was easily able to concoct cover stories. It’s a lucrative business.

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Federal prosecutors couldn’t believe that the trafficked organ sellers had been deceived or coerced into selling. Two years later Rosenbaum pleaded guilty to just three incidents of brokering kidneys for payment despite admitting to having been in the business for over a decade. At his trial, Rosenbaum had a powerful show of support from transplant patients who arrived to praise the trafficker, and beg for his mercy.

Only one victim of kidney selling testified – a young black Israeli, Elahn Quick – who was recruited by traffickers to travel to a hospital in Minnesota to sell his kidney to a 70-year-old man. Quick testified that he agreed to the donation because he had been unemployed, alienated from his community, and hoped a meritorious act would improve his social standing. However, just before he was anaesthetised he asked his “minder” if he could get out of the deal. The operation went ahead.

The judge, perhaps moved by Rosenbaum’s supporters, concluded that deep down he was a good man, and that Quick had not been defrauded; he was paid what he was promised. “Everyone”, she said, “got something out of this deal”.

Combating criminal networks

Illegal, clandestine kidney transplants depend on criminal networks of human traffickers preying on the bodies of both the desperately sick and poor. Prosecutions of traffickers and their associates — brokers, kidney hunters, and enforcers — is inefficient. Brokers are the most visible players but easily replaceable. Arresting and prosecuting a few of them, as has been the case, won’t deter others from taking their place.

While culpable, kidney sellers and transplant tour recipients are also victims of recruitment, deception and varying degrees of coercion. They can provide information, but should be treated as victims unless, as happens in some cases, they go on to also become part of the trade.

Legislation and prosecution must instead focus on transplant professionals — the surgeons, hospitals, and insurance companies – that claim immunity by saying either that they can’t police the trade, or that they are not responsible for monitoring what goes on behind the scenes, or that they’ve been deceived.

Transplant professionals were implicated in the Netcare scandal in South Africa after the company entered into a plea bargain and accepted a $1.1m fine. The charges were related to 109 kidney transplants carried out between 2001-3. There were false declarations that donors were related and five operations in which the donors were minors, all against the company’s own internal policy. One kidney specialist, Jeffrey Kallmeyer, accepted payments direct to his bank but later struck a plea bargain to avoid extradition from Canada.

Organs Watch has many copies of letters that show how organised traffickers can be, how they keep schemes quiet and how they coach kidney sellers and transfer illicit payments. Professional medical sanctions against transplant surgeons who work with criminal organs trafficking networks are non existent but could be very effective. They should lose their license to practice medicine and be prohibited from participating in transplant conferences.

Regulation cannot come solely from within the transplant profession. Different laws and different jurisdictions make prosecutions of crimes that span international boundaries very difficult. The UN Global Initiative to Combat Human Trafficking must pay more specific attention to organ trafficking, while other initiatives, such as those in the European Union, are to be applauded if we are to beat this illegal trade once and for all.

Reprinted with permssion from MercatorNet

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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