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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Trafficking...Human Organs

There was this one Sociology class I took at HPU during the winter of 2000, and I just remembered something that we had researched in that class. It had to do with the trafficking of human organs, and how there was an illegal trade in this. The basic premise was that there were people out there who were willing to give up a kidney, or another more important organ of a 'brain dead' relative (no, seriously brain dead) in return for some financial gain. Of course, their logic assumes that they've made peace with the situation of having someone else's, or their insides in another person. I mean, there is something of a case for those who do it out of desperation, but then again, this kind of situation depicts how little is being, and can be done for those less fortunate. So, there I was, reminiscing about the project (yeah right) and I wondered what some research, a couple of years down the road, will turn up. As usual I'll follow up with the links at the bottom of the page, but I hope to be able to briefly write about some discoveries first.

So, as the paragraph before this pointed out, there was something of a supply and demand thing happening with human organs. I guess we've put it behind us, the days when you realized that you were born with one or one set of everything and that's all you had. Now we can go in and get parts replaced, like a car. So, I guess that there is nothing much to be said of the human body being just a carrier of the soul...because it seems to me like it's ok to rewire the 'hardware', as long as the 'software' is intact. Or I guess a better way to say it would be that it seems to be ok to rewire the 'hardware' in any which way possible so that the 'software' can reside on the system peacefully and without further complications. Hardware and software? For those of you who got it...good. For those who didn't...that's what the 'Comments' at the bottom are for. But people do these things, or are willing to do these things. But why? What can be more important than life itself?

And it was while pondering this question that I came across something else. Now, you'd imagine that it would be illegal to do something like this, right? I mean, it's alright to be able to donate parts of your body after you die, but it isn't ok for you to walk up to someone and be like, "Dude, go on. Take a kidney. I got two anyway." But check this out. It's legal in Iran. What?!?!? According to Vidya Ram, in a Frontline article,
"Iran provides an interesting case study of a country where the kidney trade is legal and regulated. The trade is organised and controlled by two government-endorsed NGOs - the Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP) and the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases (CFSD). The role of CASKP is to put potential recipients and donors in touch with each other, and organise tests to ensure the compatibility of donors and recipients and the mental stability of donors. After the transplant the CFSD is required by law to pay the donor a sum of 1,00,000 Tomans ($1,219), which comes from government funds. Recipients often promise donors secure employment or extra money after the transplant (although CASKP and CFSD have no control over this)" (Ram, 2002).
That seemed like an interesting way to go about it. I mean, it reminded me of the whole legal marijuana thing in the Netherlands. That's one way to go about it I guess. I mean, it seems to go on the premise that as long as people have the permission to do something, then they are naturally inclined to put off doing it; as opposed to if they are refused the right to do something, in which case they adopt a rules-are-meant-to-be-broken approach. And that's the bottom line, as far as human nature is concerned. And sure, there are pros and cons. I mean, there are always instances of absolute desperation, in which case all reason and logic is thrown out the window. And that's ok too, right? I mean, who are we to judge, after all.

But what about 'humanity'? I mean, think of the person...the individual. What about their right to a decent burial or cremation with all the 'equipment' that they began the journey with? Is it a right that we can give up voluntarily? Should we be allowed to do that? Or will there ever arise a situation where the demand for human organs will make it seem to be more a business...like buying fresh parts...off a shelf at your local supermarket? Maybe this isn't even an issue...but then I came across a website which had a case study that described the situation that exists in China. It seems, that upon executing a prisoner, her/his parts are then sold for substantial profit by the executioner. Now that's a tough deal. Not only is the economy 'centrally planned', but people don't have the right to their own lives or body parts either. Here's a brief description of the system of incarceration in China, from the case study:
"In China, the prison system is vastly divergent from the system in the United States. Chinese prisoners' families are responsible for payment of the prisoners' time incarcerated. The family will pay for the entire duration of stay in prison and if the prisoner is to be executed, the family will not only compensate the government for the bullet, but remunerate the funeral arrangements as well. The Chinese government's policy makes prison time extremely taxing for the prisoners' families. Citizens of China believe that incarcerated individuals are an incredible burden to society due to the extreme financial burden they cause the family. Having a family member imprisoned not only causes a great financial burden, but mental anguish as well. Quite often the Chinese Communist Party will apply additional pressure onto the family by controlling the family's mobility. This can be done by limiting changes of receiving a promotion at work, or by controlling the family's ability to move into better housing" (Illegal human organ trade, n.d.).
And after reading that I thought, "Damn! That's pretty insane." I mean, I've seen it depicted in movies and have read about terrible things that happen to people if they oppose the system, but then again, that happens everywhere eh? But that's not it. The part that was really interesting was this little bit:
"It was after the introduction of cyclosporine that China implemented its 1984 rule to allow for organ donation from executed prisoners. Unfortunately, modernization and advancement can facilitate and produce a double-edged phenomenon. The phenomenon related to transplantation is the illicit trade of human organs. The supply of human organs can not meet demands, and as a result, there has been an incredible rise of illegal human organ sales...The negative repercussions from the reliance on executed prisoners to supply vital organs, exceedingly outweigh the feasible greater good. The greater good is compromised because the issue surrounding organ donation becomes complicated by the high cost obtained from the executed prisoners' valuable organs. The high cost involved has led to executions in China taking place in order to accommodate human organ recipients' needs or desires, not according to the prisoner's family's wishes" (Illegal human organ trade, n.d.).

So, that's how they do it. I'm sure it's effective, but...well, I don't know. I mean, it's almost like it's been legalized because it happens so blatantly, but how can they allow something like that to happen? Or, how can we allow it to happen...or be comfortable with the knowledge that it happens? How can you go to bed at night knowing that there are people out there who're being chopped up and served fresh? Crazy man. It's truly some deadly stuff...not only because no one survives the execution in one piece, but because it happens, and people are okay with it.

Most of the sources are from a couple of years ago when I guess this was a bit more of an issue and happened to be on the front page. But there are a couple that are more recent, like from last year, and they seem to indicate that, like other things I've noticed haven't been helped by any hue and cry, there hasn't really been much progress in this area. And it's wierd too, because it's not like convincing people not to eat meat so that you can free the animals that suffer because there is demand for them to be eaten. Here, we're dealing with the issue of our 'selves'. On the one hand it's okay to save another life if the person willing to donate an organ has ceased to live, or has 'moved on'. But is it okay to accept a person's proposal and take her/his organ when they offer it to you and seem to have no will to live for themselves, and only for their family? Does the fact that this person is driven to do this by sheer desperation make it ok for them to offer up a kidney? What issue are we trying to identify and resolve here?

And last, but certainly not least, what is the reason for a person to want to replace her/his organs? Is it that they were 'short-ended' at the time of conception and all the 'bits' didn't come out as per quality? Was it like God's quality team didn't do a good job with the inspection and this resulted in a goof? Or is it because we choose to live our lives in a particular manner and end up over-working or abusing certain parts of our body, which we later have to have replaced? Where does it all begin? And where will it end?

While writing this piece (Oh God! Not that again!) I've realized that this is a good example of how the effort that we/people put into some thing can be better used elsewhere. Why do I say this? Well, because in the course of this little exercise, I've wondered whether or not the problem is because there are enough 'unfortunate' people who're willing to do this (poverty), or whether it is because of the fact that the reason this need arises is because of a sedentary lifestyle (health), although, not in all cases. So what does that make the illegal trade in human organs? Is it a crisis? Is it a problem? Is it an emergency? Or is it something that we'll continue to fight for years to come because we haven't gone far back enough to understand the true cause(s)?

Links
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  1. International Traffic in Human Organs - Vidya Ram
  2. Illegal Human Organ Trade from Executed Prisoners in China
  3. Human Organs: The next futures market? - Joanne Laurier
  4. Report of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery - UNHCHR
  5. Organ Trafficking and Transplant Pose New Challenges - WHO
  6. European Public Health Alliance
  7. Human Organs Trafficking Revealed in Northern Mozambique
  8. Kidney Trade Arrest Exposes Loopholes in India's Transplant Laws - Ganapati Mudur
  9. What is a Kidney Worth? - Abraham McLaughlin, Ilene R. Prusher, & Andrew Downie
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