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Extreme Capitalism: Commodities Trading in Human Organs

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The Secretary of Health of the Philippines has drafted an administrative order that will grant official governmental sanction for organ transplant tourism for foreign patients that is aimed at overcoming what has been an illegal practice of organ sales in the Philippines. So writes Francis Delmonico, MD, in a paper presented at a February 21 seminar at the Cato Institute in Washington in opposition to organ trafficking and marketing for organ sales. Delmonico is Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and practices transplant surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also the director of medical affairs for the Transplantation Society and an advise on human transplantation for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Delmonico stressed that a regulated organ market will result in the poor in developing nations like the Philippines, who are not well to begin with, would be worse off after a kidney transplant. He also believes that if organ sales are permitted, prospective kidney donors from a country like the Philippines may travel to countries like the United States where they could receive more money for their kidneys.

Both WHO and the European Commission have come out against the commodification of the human body Delmonico said. Some proponents of regulated organ sales likened the practice to the donation for money of human sperm and eggs.

The National Organ Transplantation Act (NOTA) of 1984 regulates the gifting of human organs but bans the vending of them. Free market capitalists want to amend this law to permit commercial marketing programs.

Delmonico's paper cites the 2004 resolution of the World Health Assembly that calls on member states "to take measures to protect the poorest and vulnerable groups from transplant tourism and the sale of tissues and organs, including attention to the wider problem of international trafficking in human tissues and organs."

In what may be the first time this editor has ever supported anything advanced by a member of the Bush administration, Samuel Crowe, a senior policy analyst with the President's Council on Bioethics, stressing that he was speaking for himself, said "humans cannot be sold and traded" and any suggestion that human parts could be commodities "degrades human society."

Crowe said he fears that a person's transplantable organs could become part of a person's net worth and that their selling of a kidney, for example, could be used for debt collection, bankruptcy, and welfare means testing purposes. He felt that the poor and the young could be preyed upon by older members of society for their healthier organs. From a religious perspective, the late Pope John Paul II also was opposed to the trade in human organs. The Bishops of Manila have also condemned the Philippines draft order for providing the Philippine people "to be used by the rich of the world."

Delmonico said their were practical reasons to oppose the commercial marketing of human organs. They include the fact that current transplant resources are shifting away from younger people with "longer life years from transplant" (LYFT) to older persons with limited longevity and that if a commercial market for kidneys takes shape the "market" will shift away from post-death donors of hearts, pancreas, lungs, and livers, thus impacting the altruistic donor population in favor of the commercial sales of kidneys market.

Delmonico decried the fact that Israel is outsourcing kidney and liver transplants to Colombia and the Philippines. Israel has, in the past, been a center for dubious human organ trafficking operations. It is also the case that Palestinian prisoners in Israel have sought to sell their kidneys to feed their children. The Israel Medical Association is opposing a bill that would allow the donors of certain organs to be reimbursed by the state. The group claims this will "open the door" to organ sales.

The Cato seminar drew a number of representatives from the U.S. government including the National Institutes of Health, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Health and Human Services, and Senator Mike Crapo's (R-ID) office.

In a related medical matter, revelations about the "Bodies" exhibition that displays "plastinated" human bodies from China and the sources of those bodies has prompted investigations by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. Investigators want to know if the bodies used in the exhibit are truly "unclaimed" as maintained by the exhibit company, Premier Exhibition.
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