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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Julie Ralph

My 7-year-old son found porn on his iPod, even with a filter

Julie Ralph
By Julie Ralph

A few weeks ago an article went viral on my Facebook feed entitled “The Day My 10-Year-Old Discovered Hardcore Porn on his iPhone.”  As one Mom after another shared and commented about how frightening and horrible it was and wondered what do we do to prevent it, I commented on several of those shares (perhaps a little smugly and proudly) that WE had installed an excellent filtering program on all of our devices that even filters YouTube.  I most likely left the impression that WE have no worries in this house, that our kids can watch their iPods and kindles, even those annoying Minecraft how to videos on YouTube, and WE don’t have to worry about them seeing filth. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I could have entitled this blog post “The Day My 7-Year-Old Discovered Porn on His iPod” but it might look like I’m trying to one-up that other Mom.  Which I’m not.  Because, trust me, this is one Mom competition I’d rather lose. 

This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.

So YES we have this supposedly great and awesome filter on all of our devices and we pay about $70 a year for it.   Look, I’ve been on my computer trying to shop for a swimsuit at Lands End and the filter blocked me.  Annoying, yes.  But assuring.  I remember thinking wow….if I can’t even get on here and see the tummy-sucking-miracle-fat-hiding-mawmaw-swimsuits, my boys will NEVER be able to discover Victoria or her Secret.   And I’ve been on YouTube trying to see how to quickly defrost CHICKEN breasts, and it blocked several videos AND ads that probably had nothing to do with fowl or a thawing method.  Again I remember thinking, good.  This is really good.  Nothing to worry about.

Then last night happened.

My youngest son was visibly shaken as he was getting ready for bed.  I knew something was wrong when I saw he was wearing his flannel pajamas with the mountain bears printed all over them on one of the hottest August nights this month.   He seemed almost disoriented and I asked him if he was sick as he was trying to quickly crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.   He then reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his little iPod, and tossed it to me saying he doesn’t deserve it anymore because he is bad.  “I’m bad, so bad….I saw bad things.”  My heart started racing and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because I knew where this was going.  Very calmly and quietly I assured him he was not bad and there was nothing in the world he could ever tell me that would make me think he was bad.  “What did you see, sweetheart?” I asked.  After about ten minutes of me coaxing it out of him, with a wobbly still-tiny-smidge-of-baby-left voice he told me he was searching for a word he had heard and he spelled it for me.  T-t-i-s.  (I quickly unscrambled and knew what he meant).  He went on to tell me he searched for this on YouTube (the app is not even on his iPod….he must go through the “filter” app to access it!).   He told me he saw pictures and videos.

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My stomach turned.  I ran through all the “How To” files I’d stored away in my mind.  You know those files….situations you’ve thought about as a Mom and how you’d handle…you file them away for another day.  Usually one you hope will never come.   Turns out I didn’t have a file for this.  Because I honestly thought we had done everything on the front end to keep it from happening. 

I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled him close and started talking to him from my broken heart.  I asked him if he knew what that word meant before he searched for it.  He said no.  I told him it is a very crude and ugly word for something that is not crude and ugly.  I told him what the proper word is and I asked him if he knew why God made them like that on women?  He said no.  I told him it was the miraculous and wonderful way that God made women able to feed their babies.  I told him how every woman who has those is made to feed a baby, and those women in those pictures and videos are either already someone’s Mommy or they will be one day.  And what God meant for a beautiful purpose is twisted and made into something very wrong and ugly by those pictures and videos.

Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.

We continued to talk and then we prayed together and I left him to sleep as I walked back to my room for a sleepless night.  I cried for the ugly, messed up, twisted, and sick world out there that I can’t protect my children from.  I cried for what he had seen that I couldn’t un-see for him.  I cried because I had abdicated MY parenting duties to some stupid computer software that I thought would protect my children.  I cried because I can never get back that bit of innocence he lost way, way too early.  I cried as I went onto YouTube, put in that same search and saw just the thumbnails of what he had to have seen.  I just can’t bring myself to actually click on the videos.  I cried because, when I went in to check on him later, he was curled up with Big Bear in one arm and his little blue and white checked blanket in the other.  He’s still a baby. 

I’m mad now.  And I really hope my anger continues to burn because I need it to fuel my diligence.   I need my guard to be up and to stay up.  This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.  I know there are those who would say I’m being overly dramatic, that I can’t put my children in a bubble, blah blah blah.  I don’t care.  I will do whatever it takes to protect my children until their minds, bodies and emotions are better prepared to grasp, filter, and sort through the warped and ugly parts of our world that are pulling on them.  I will continue to pull back and hold on for dear life.   Don’t do as I did, friends.  Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.  Do as I am doing now.  Uninstall any and all browsers or video apps on your kids’ personal devices and set the restrictions where they can’t install apps anymore without asking you first.   Have one central computer in a public area of your home that they may use, with permission, and still with filter software installed.  But remember that’s not the first line of defense in this war.

You are.

Julie Ralph blogs at Mommy, Esquire, where this piece was originally published.

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Sen. Ted Cruz's wife douses him with water as part of the Ice Bucket challenge for ALS research. Youtube
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Sen. Ted Cruz: Do the ALS challenge, donate to pro-life institute

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By Dustin Siggins

One of the nation's most prominent senators is doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge -- but encouraging donations to a pro-life ALS research institute.

In the last month, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, sponsored by the ALS Association, has raised tens of millions of dollars for research for the disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. However, in mid-August pro-life leaders raised awareness that the Association supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem-cell research includes the destruction of a human embryo, and is thus condemned by pro-life advocates as an abortion. The Association has said it currently has one project that uses embryonic stem cells, funded by an outside donor.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Cruz -- who took the challenge last week -- said that he and his wife "are proud to personally support the John Paul II Medical Research Institute the Home of Give Cures (http://jp2mri.org), which conducts groundbreaking research into curing this terrible disease, without using embryonic stem cells."

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"The JPII Institute respects human life, and is working to improve the lives of all of us," said Cruz. 

The ALS Association has said donors may specify their dollars not be used to fund embryonic stem-cell research. However, critics note that donated funds are fungible, meaning they potentially free up funds the Association can then direct to illicit research.

At least two Catholic dioceses have encouraged Ice Bucket Challenge participants to donate to the JPII Medical Institute.

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7989 West Virginia Drive, Dallas, where Planned Parenthood is working on secretly opening up a new abortion facility. Google Streetview
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Pro-abortion study: Texas will be down to eight abortion clinics by fall

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By Dustin Siggins

A study by a pro-abortion research group shows that Texas will be down from 41 abortion clinics in July 2013 to eight by this fall.

In July, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that six abortion clinics matched the standards required in HB2, which was signed into law 13 months ago. Those standards include requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of clinics at which they work, a standard already in place, and a requirement that all abortion clinics must upgrade their facilities to the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers.

The study estimates that a total of eight clinics will be able to meet the ambulatory standards, including one that will open in the fall. The standards take effect on September 1. According to the study, this means there will be one abortion clinic for every one million Texans who could become pregnant. An infographic from the study shows that the existing clinics will be located on the eastern half of the state, largely near metropolitan areas.

The study's results, published in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception, have abortion supporters outraged. Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check writes, "No legal abortion facilities will operate south or west of San Antonio," and that five of the clinics will be operated by Planned Parenthood.

However, the closure of so many clinics is good news to pro-life activists like Karen Garnett, who heads the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in the Diocese of Dallas.

"The closing of abortion facilities in Texas the last few years has been the result of the owners of the facilities themselves not being willing or able to comply with the higher standards of medical safety" required by the Texas legislature, Garnett told LifeSiteNews. "Pro-life activists and leaders in Dallas (and Texas) have been working vigilantly with the members of the Texas legislature the last few years to pass these sensible laws.  There is much to be said for the power of prayer, particularly through the powerful 40 Days for Life campaign and prayer vigils."

While abortion supporters claim Texas is abandoning pregnant women, Garnett said the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas has "helped more than 7,500 mothers choose life outside the abortion facilities," but "we don't stop there."

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"Our Project Gabriel Ministry takes the next step. For those mothers needing and desiring spiritual, emotional and material help, we offer Gabriel Angels, who are paired with them in a one-on-one mentoring and support relationship. We also have a Gabriel Resource Coordinator on staff to help them with practical needs as their situations stabilize." Life skills classes, adoption counseling, and partnerships with pregnancy centers are also part of the Diocese's work to help pregnant mothers.

Jor-El Godsey of Heartbeat International said that there are 326 pregnancy help organizations across the state, which outnumber abortion clinics by approximately 40 to 1. He estimated that approximately 120,000 pregnant women have come to care centers in 2014.

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which is funded by an anonymous donor, is a five-year effort to "analyze the impact of the measures affecting reproductive health passed by the 82nd and 83rd Texas Legislatures." The project's partners include the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center, the pro-abortion Ibis Reproductive Health, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. One of the project's investigators is Daniel Grossman, whose biography says that "his current research at Ibis includes both clinical and social science studies aimed at improving access to contraception and safe abortion."

The project has also published reports titled "The Public Health Threat of Anti-Abortion Legislation," and "Finding the Twitter Users that Stood With Wendy." The latter examined social media support for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who briefly became a national figure for her support of late-term abortions in 2013.

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