OTTAWA/WINNIPEG—A liberal MP has introduced a private members bill that would criminalize organ transplants inside or outside of Canada that involved organs purchased or taken from unwilling donors.
Bill C-500, introduced by MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, proposes amending the criminal code to punish any Canadian citizen who participates in an organ transplant that would be considered illegal in Canada, no matter where in the world the transplant takes place.
That includes transplants where the organ "donor" was paid for the sale of their organ, as in the recent case of "Doctor Horror," Amit Kumar, who lived in Brampton, Ontario with his wife and children.
Kumar is wanted by Interpol for allegedly masterminding a kidney trafficking ring that bought or stole kidneys from farmers and labourers in India. The organs were sold to wealthy Indians and foreigners. Reports say computers taken in a raid on one of Kumar's clinics in India revealed there were inquiries from Canada.
Bill C-500 would establish a list of people like Kumar who would be barred from Canada for participating in organ sales.
The bill also puts the onus on organ recipients to certify the organ they receive was legally obtained. All transplant recipients will have to obtain a certificate establishing the organ was donated and no money was paid.
While that may be a simple matter for in-country transplants, Canadians that travel overseas for transplant, "transplant tourists" as they are called, could face difficulty, especially visitors to countries like China known for dealing in organs taken from unwilling donors.
Transplant tourists rely on aftercare and drugs provided through their provincial medical systems after they return to Canada. Under the bill, medical practitioners in Canada would be required to report any organ recipient they treat to a certification program. That program would check to make sure the organ recipient has a certificate verifying their organ wasn't purchased or stolen. Transplant recipients who are found to not have a certificate could face investigation and prosecution.
The bill proscribes a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of life in prison for offenders.
Wrzesnewskyj said he was motivated to draft the bill by stories he heard in many parts of the world, including a series of articles in Ukraine a few years ago when children were disappearing from orphanages.
Wrzesnewskyj said that like most people he wasn't overly perturbed by the stories because he assumed westerners were coming and bribing officials so they could adopt the children. But a local police officer discovers something different.
"As [the officer] dug, something quite horrific became apparent," said Wrzesnewskyj. " These children weren't being adopted. These children were actually being sacrificed for their organs; the organs were being sold."
Around that time he also read about kidney trafficking in India where some poor villagers were selling their organs for the price of a taxicab.
"Some times their consequences were horrific. In fact, they didn't get the money promised," recounted Wrzesnewskyj.
More recently Wrzesnewskyj read a report co-authored by two Canadians, former MP David Kilgour and prominent human rights lawyer David Matas. The report details evidence indicating the large-scale practice of killing imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners so their organs can be sold and transplanted.
Wrzesnewskyj describe the report as "horrifying."
"In all cases, these were the most vulnerable people in their particular societies," he said.
Wrzesnewskyj believes three trends have fueled illicit organ trafficking: medical technology that allows any organ to be cheaply transplanted, international travel that allows a person to cross the globe in less than a day, and increasing disparities between the richest and poorest people on the planet.
"So, it has come together [with] horrific consequences for those who are vulnerable," he said.
While the bill has just been given its first reading and may have to be reintroduced if the minority government falls, Wrzesnewskyj said it is important to start the process and set an example other countries may follow.
"I salute him for leading the way," said former MP David Kilgour. "I hope he'll get all party support . . . It's exactly the kind of measure Canada should pass."
Kilgour and Wrzesnewskyj both describe the bill as a non-partisan issue.
Kilgour said the bill is comprehensive but suspects it may encounter criticism that it goes too far. That said, he is confident it will pass.
"I just don't think any MP would want to be associated with speaking against it or voting against it, it's just too serious an issue."
"It's a huge problem involving our own country and our own citizens. I'm sure the timing of reports from India was an accident but it's very helpful."
Kilgour said each country should have its own legislation on this issue and proposed there could even be a U.N. convention on organ harvesting the way there is for land mines.
"A U.N. convention . . . would require 50 countries to ratify it and that might prove to be a difficult issue because China would certainly oppose it."
A release announcing the bill says "Bill C-500 addresses the exploitation of the vulnerable in developing countries or incarcerated by totalitarian regimes whose healthy organs are purchased or extracted through coercion and sold for use by the wealthy."
"By enacting this legislation Canada will become an international leader in combating the sinister underground trade in human organs and body parts," said Wrzesnewskyj.