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According to scholars, reports of organ thefts and related abductions, mainly of children, have been rife in Poland and Russia at least since 1991. The buyers are supposed to be rich Arabs.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, an anthropologist at University of California at Berkeley and co-founder of Organs Watch, a research and documentation center, is also a member and co-author of Bellagio Task Force Report on Transplantation, Bodily Integrity and International Traffic in Organs. In a report presented in June 2001 to House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, she substantiated at least nationality of alleged buyers, though not urban legends regarding organ theft:
"In Middle East residents of Gulf States (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman) have for many years traveled to India, Philippines, and to Eastern Europe to purchase kidneys made scarce locally due to local fundamentalist Islamic teachings that allow organ transplantation (to save a life), but prohibit organ harvesting from brain-dead bodies.
Meanwhile, hundreds of kidney patients from Israel, which has its own well -developed, but under-used transplantation centers (due to ultra-orthodox Jewish reservations about brain death) travel in 'transplant tourist' junkets to Turkey, Moldova, Romania where desperate kidney sellers can be found, and to Russia where an excess of lucrative cadaveric organs are produced due to lax standards for designating brain death, and to South Africa where amenities in transplantation clinics in private hospitals can resemble four star hotels.
We found in many countries - from Brazil and Argentina to India, Russia, Romania, Turkey to South Africa and parts of United States - a kind of 'apartheid medicine' that divides world into two distinctly different populations of 'organs supplies' and 'organs receivers'."
Russia, together with Estonia, China and Iraq, is, indeed, a major harvesting and trading centre. International news agencies described, two years ago, how a grandmother in Ryazan tried to sell her grandchild to a mediator. The boy was to be smuggled to West and there dismembered for his organs. The uncle, who assisted in matter, was supposed to collect $70,000 - a fortune in Russian terms.
When confronted by European Union on this issue, Russia responded that it lacks resources required to monitor organ donations. The Italian magazine, Happy Web, reports that organ trading has taken to Internet. A simple query on Google search engine yields thousands of Web sites purporting to sell various body parts - mostly kidneys - for up to $125,000. The sellers are Russian, Moldovan, Ukrainian and Romanian.
Scheper-Hughes, an avid opponent of legalizing any form of trade in organs, says that "in general, movement and flow of living donor organs - mostly kidneys - is from South to North, from poor to rich, from black and brown to white, and from female to male bodies".
Yet, this summer, bowing to reality, American Medical Association commissioned a study to examine effects of paying for cadaveric organs would have on current shortage. The 1984 National Organ Transplant Act that forbids such payments is also under attack. Bills to amend it were submitted recently by several Congressmen. These are steps in right direction.
Organ trafficking is outcome of international ban on organ sales and live donor organs. But wherever there is demand there is a market. Excruciating poverty of potential donors, lengthening patient waiting lists and better quality of organs harvested from live people make organ sales an irresistible proposition. The medical professions and authorities everywhere would do better to legalize and regulate trade rather than transform it into a form of organized crime. The denizens of Moldova would surely appreciate it.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.