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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Lisa Bourne

‘You can’t have’ marriage equality ‘without polygamy’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage,” a Montana polygamist has filed for a second marriage license, so he can be legally wed to two women at once.

"It's about marriage equality," said Nathan Collier, using homosexual advocates’ term to support marriage redefinition. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Collier, who has has appeared on the TLC reality show Sister Wives with his legal wife Victoria, and his second wife Christine, said he was inspired by the dissent in the Supreme Court decision.

The minority Supreme Court justices said in Friday’s ruling it would open the door to both polygamy and religious persecution.

“It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

Collier and his wives applied for a second marriage license earlier this week at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, a report from the Salt Lake Tribune said.

Collier, who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for polygamy, married Victoria in 2000 and had a religious wedding ceremony with Christine in 2007. The three have seven children between them and from previous relationships.

"My second wife Christine, who I'm not legally married to, she's put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy," Collier said.

Yellowstone County officials initially denied the application before saying they would consult with the County Attorney and get him a final answer.

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Bigamy, the holding of multiple marriage licenses, is illegal all 50 states, but Collier plans to sue if his application is denied. Officials expect to have an answer for him next week.

While homosexual “marriage” supporters have long insisted legalization of same-sex unions would not lead to polygamy, pro-life and family advocates have warned all along it would be inevitable with the redefinition of marriage.

“The next court cases coming will push for polygamy, as Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his dissent,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, after the Supreme Court ruling. “The chief justice said “the argument for polygamy is actually stronger than that for ‘gay marriage.’ It’s only a matter of time.”

In a piece from the Washington Times, LifeSiteNews Editor-in-Chief and the co-founder of Voice of the Family John-Henry Westen stated the move toward legal polygamy is “just the next step in unraveling how Americans view marriage.”

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Chris Christie: Clerks must perform same-sex ‘marriages’ regardless of their religious beliefs

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By Ben Johnson

TRENTON, NJ, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Chris Christie is not known for nuance. This time, he has turned his fiery personality loose on county clerks and other officials who have religious objections to performing same-sex “marriages.”

In a tone usually reserved for busting teachers' unions, Christie told clerks who hold traditional values, “You took the job, and you took the oath.” He would offer no exemption for an individual whose conscience would not allow him to participate in a union the vast majority of the world's religions deem sinful.

“When you go back and re-read the oath it doesn’t give you an out. You have to do it,” he said.

He told a reporter that there “might” be “individual circumstances” that “merit some examination, but none that come immediately to mind for me.”

“I think for folks who are in the government world, they kind of have to do their job, whether you agree with the law or you don’t,” the pugnacious governor said.

Since the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to legalize homosexual “marriage” last Friday, elected officials have grappled with how to safeguard the rights of those who have deeply held religious beliefs that would not allow them to participate in such a ceremony.

Christie's response differs markedly from other GOP hopefuls' responses to the Supreme Court ruling. Mike Huckabee, for instance, has specifically said that clerks should have conscience rights. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order granting such rights and ordered clerks to wait until a pending court case was fully adjudicated before any clerk issues a marriage license to a homosexual couple.

Christie gave up a legal appeal after a superior court judge struck down his state's voter-approved constitutional marriage protection amendment. New Jersey is the only state where such a low court overturned the will of the voters.

The decision to ignore conscience rights adds to the growing number of Christie's positions that give conservatives pause.

The natural locus of support for a Christie 2016 presidential run is the Republican's socially liberal donor class, for personal as well as political reasons. His wife works on Wall Street, and some of the GOP's high-dollar donors – including Paul Singer – have courted Christie for years.

However, this year Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser degree Scott Walker have eclipsed Christie as the preferred candidates of the boardroom donors – who sometimes prefer Democrats to Republicans.

Christie also used language during a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, which concerned some major GOP donors.

Christie is reportedly spending this weekend with Mitt Romney and his family at Romney's New Hampshire home. Romney declined to enter the 2016 race himself and may be able to open his donor list to Christie's struggling campaign.

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After having a girl with Down syndrome, this couple adopted two more

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By Ben Johnson

LINO LAKE, MN, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – For most people, having five biological children would have been enough. In fact, for many Americans, large families are treated as a scandal or a burden.

But one family made the decision, not just to have a large family, but to give a home to some of the most vulnerable children in the world: Girls born overseas with Down syndrome.

Lee and Karen Shervheim love all seven of their children, biological or otherwise. Undeterred by having twin boys – Daniel and Andrew, 18 – they had Sam four years later.

They now have three daughters who are all 11 years old. All three have Down syndrome.

And two of them are adopted.

About the time their eight-year-old son, David, was born, Lee and Karen decided to adopt a child with Down syndrome to be a companion to their daughter, Annie.

They made the further unexpected choice to adopt a child from Eastern Europe with the help of Reece's Rainbow, which helps parents adopt children with Down syndrome.

“Between my wife and I, we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Lee told the Quad City Press. “So many children need families and we knew we could potentially do something about it.”

After originally deciding to adopt Katie, they spent six weeks in Kiev, visiting an orphanage in nearby Kharkov. While there, they decided they may have room in their heart, and their home, for another child.

When they saw a picture of Emie striking the same pose as their biological daughter in one of their photographs, they knew they would come home with two children.

Both girls were the same age as their Annie. She would not lack for companionship, as they worried.

Lee said after the Ukrainian government – finally – completed the paperwork, they returned to the United States, when the real challenges began.

“The unvarnished truth,” Lee told the Press, is that adopting the Russian-speaking special needs children “was really disruptive to our family. They came with so many issues that we had not anticipated.”

After teaching them sign language and appropriate behavior, they moved to Lino Lake, Minnesota and found a new support group in Eagle Brook Church. There they found personal assistance and spiritual solace.

Every year in the past seven years has been better and better, they say.

“I think my girls can do almost anything they want to do,” he said, “and that’s what I want to help them become.”

The family's devotion is fueled by their faith, and it informs the sense of humor Lee showed in a tweet during the 2014 midterm elections:

It takes a special person to believe in the potential of the “mentally retarded,” as they were once labeled. Today, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb will be aborted. The percentage is higher in some countries. Some have even spoken of "a world without people with Down syndrome."

Their God, and their experience, tell them that every child has infinite worth and potential, Lee told local media, and he would encourage anyone to follow his footsteps and adopt a Down syndrome child – or two.

“The message is that it really doesn’t matter where you started or where you came from,” Lee said. “There are endless opportunities for everyone, whether they have disabilities or not. They deserve a shot.”

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