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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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

You can also donate by phone or mail. We would love to hear from you!

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