The greatest teaching of humanity is to render service to mankind. The significance of human life lies in dedicating oneself to the distressed humanity and serving the destitute. It is said that money can do almost everything in this mortal world. But sometimes, million dollars is of no use where a drop of blood is needed to save lives. That is why, donating organs (including blood) is considered as the supreme and most valued donation of human capability. Organ donation is the donation of biological tissue or an organ of the human body, from a living or dead person to a living recipient in need of a transplantation. But it is quite regrettable that in the name of organ donation, trafficking or illegal trade of organs has been practised in our country for more than a decade. Transplantation of human organs (mainly kidneys as well as liver lobes and single corneas) has created an illegal market in the country. Due to pervasive poverty and loopholes in existing legislation, this illegal trade has been continuing secretly for years and is yet to be disclosed to public exposure.
Challenges in curbing illegal organ trade
* Trafficking of organs is considered as one of the largest organised criminal offences like human trafficking. A well-organised syndicate of criminals remains active behind this illegal organ business. According to newspaper reporting, there are about a dozen of countries involved in organ trafficking networks. Organ collection and organ transplant take place both inside and outside the country. Doctors, hospital officials and drug companies turn a blind eye to this illicit act because they profit along with the brokers.
* Wealthy buyers (recipients) and brokers trick poor illiterate people into selling their organs by lucrative newspaper advertisements making false promises like high price of organs, finding jobs to jobless people, travelling to modern countries, impossible offers such as citizenship in a foreign country etc. Burdened by debt and with mouths to feed, these sellers are lured by these false promises but in the end, the sellers are brutally deceived. They do not get the money they are promised, rather plagued with serious health problems. The brokers are finally largely benefitted since they receive huge commission from the wealthy buyers as well as seize a significant portion from the promised amount to be paid to the donors.
* Human organs transplantation in Bangladesh is regulated by the 'Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1999 (TOHO Act). Some legal experts opine that this Act itself is somehow responsible for failure in regulating illegal organ trade because of the lacunas in this Act and lack of implementation. The Act prohibits and provides punishment for offering, advertising or any other commercial dealings of human organ [sec. 9 & 10(1)] but it does not prescribe an appropriate authority that will grant permission of transplantation and examine the donor and recipient and take cognizance of offence. The Act also empowers the government to prescribe rules but yet no rules have been framed.
The demand of organs far outnumbers the supply. There is a great shortage of organs available for transplantation yet commercial trade in human organs is illegal. As long as there are rich patients and poor people desperately longing for money at any cost, organ trafficking is likely to remain a lucrative business.
* Ignorance of the illiterate poor people about the utility of two kidneys is also a factor in this respect. The buyers and brokers tell them the cock and bull story that two kidneys do not function simultaneously inside human body. One remains active and another keeps sleeping. The doctors will turn on the sleeping kidney and extract the old one. Since people do not need two kidneys at a time, donating one will not cause trouble to the body.
* There is an influx of illegal buying and selling of organs inside the country. But no effective investigative field work or research has been carried out. Non-availability of data on exact scale of buying and selling of human organs through the underground market as well as negligent approach of the government are making the illegal traders more desperate and reckless.
* Cadaveric donation i.e. donating organs after death, could be an appropriate solution to stop illegal organ trade. But in our country, both in Islam and Hinduism, there is a strict taboo against body mutilation.
What should be done
A more extensive cadaveric organ donation programme must be launched through educational institutions, news media and religious centers. Organ donation from family members may also be encouraged.
Concerned legislation must be amended and supplementary regulations must be framed by the government in accordance with the standard and legislative provisions of advanced countries.
The government should play an active role in putting pressure on foreign governments to acknowledge the problem and insisting on onslaught on brokers, recipients, doctors and dishonest people involved in the illegal trade.
A commission should be set up to verify the relationship between recipients and donors.
A national registry to record recipients' and donors' information must be maintained.
Research should be launched to invent artificial organs which could be used for effective transplantation. Mass awareness among common people must be raised against organ trafficking and regarding organ transplantation laws and procedure. The donors must be made aware of their rights, privileges and due medical care.
Organ trafficking is a gross violation of human rights as the poor people have an equal right to keep their organs intact inside their bodies. They are also entitled to seek justice and protection from deception, forgery, false contract, misrepresentation and similar other criminal offences. Regulating the market will not be a good solution because by that more rich people will live at the expense of the well-being of the poor. It is high time to construct a shield based upon law, equity and justice.
The writer is Assistant Professor of Law, Premier University, Chittagong.