Organ Tourism: Blood on Australians Hands

March 21, 2013 5:18 pm Last Updated: May 28, 2015 2:43 pm

When a transplant donor is a person overseas who has been commercially exploited or even worse, effectively killed to provide an organ, then in the absence of effective legislation to criminalise this, all Australians pay the price for silence and government lawmakers risk becoming becoming complicit.

International experts are calling on the State Government to support legislation that would ban NSW residents from receiving organs found to be from illegal and unethical sources.

David Kilgour, former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific), and Maria Fiatarone Singh, Professor of Medicine at Sydney University, addressed an audience that included several members of the legislature at NSW Parliament on March 12.

NSW Upper House and NSW Greens member David Shoebridge hosted the briefing to raise awareness of a proposed amendment to the Human Tissue (Trafficking in Human Organs) Bill.

In his opening address, Mr Shoebridge explained that an increased demand for transplant surgery was being met “on the international market through grossly unethical sourcing of organs”.

A number of NSW residents are travelling overseas each year to receive organs illegally or that have been unethically harvested.

Mr Shoebridge recounted a story in which a NSW renal surgeon was informed by his dialysis patient that they would be flying to China for a kidney transplant where a “donor” was about to be shot.

Health services provided through publically funded Medicare are given to Australian organ recipients before and after transplant operations.

While the State Government expressed concern about these trends in a recent parliamentary discussion, they have for now forfeited responsibility on the matter, instead stating it was a Commonwealth issue.

David Kilgour, recipient of the 2009 Human Rights Award from the International Society for Human Rights for his work on illegal organ harvesting, said to The Epoch Times that “jurisdictional buck-passing” was not uncommon where political will was lacking.

The provision of health services is in the domain of both state and federal governments, “so both can legislate and in this case it would be ideal”, said Mr Kilgour.

The official number of Australians travelling overseas for organs is unclear as records are not maintained. Hospitals however do have records of post-transplant treatment, but this has not been collated into one source.

The NSW Government purports there are only one or two cases per year, while Mr Shoebridge believes it is closer to six cases per year, based on his dealings with renal surgeons.

The spectrum of illegal and unethical transplant tourism is described by Mr Shoebridge as starting with “desperately poor people” living in poverty in countries like India and the Philippines who are exploited to sell their organs for very little compensation. The worst cases of it are reported in China, where victims include prisoners detained without trial and held because of their spiritual beliefs “only to be killed at facilities in China that can provide complex, complicated and sophisticated arrangements, where effectively prisoners are killed to order”.

When questioned on the issue of magnitude of the problem at the briefing, Professor Singh said: “To say it’s not an issue of huge magnitude to Australians is one thing, but it is of huge magnitude for the number of Chinese people being killed. That’s putting a very different priority on the life of one person over another.

“It’s symbolic as well. Even if only one person from NSW goes [overseas for an organ], if there is a law against it, at least it makes the statement that NSW has some integrity in this regard and it’s a symbol for the other states and the Commonwealth Government to follow in their footsteps.”