After five men were convicted for their role in an international organ trafficking ring in Kosovo in 2013, the prosecutor had a stern warning for the Canadian government: ban the purchase of organs in foreign countries.
Seven years later, there is still no law in Canada to stop this abhorrent practice.
The phenomenon of organ trafficking has been going on for years and Canadians are willful participants. Some pay thousands of dollars to travel abroad to receive much-needed transplants — often without knowing where the organs come from.
The Kosovo trial heard that a Canadian man had paid $105,000 for a black-market kidney from a woman in Russia in the summer of 2008. He was one of two dozen transplant recipients at a private clinic in Pristina, the Kosovar capital. The transplant was a “contributing factor” to his death, which occurred shortly after he testified at the trial, Canadian prosecutor Jonathan Ratel said.
For the third time now, I’ve introduced a bill to make it illegal for Canadians to purchase organs without informed consent. Bill S-204 is an attempt to put an end to transplant tourism, the effects of which have largely escaped public notice.
This bill also strengthens the Immigration and Refugee Act by rendering a person inadmissible to Canada if they are found to have participated in activity related to organ trafficking.
Research by journalists and medical anthropologists have painted a grim portrait of these transactions. Patients from wealthy countries like Canada, languishing on organ donor waiting lists, travel abroad to get organs from victim-donors. In many cases the donors live in poverty; some have been deceived or coerced into going under the knife for a fraction of the money the recipient has paid to the traffickers.
In the most extreme cases, victim-donors are kidnapped and their organs are harvested without their consent. Think of the case in India, where a man woke up in a daze in a strange house one day to the sight of a man in a surgical mask and latex gloves. When he asked what had happened, the stranger bluntly said, “Your kidney has been removed.”
At the Kosovo trial, more than 100 witnesses testified about the trafficking ring, which involved recipients from Canada, Israel, Poland, the U.S. and Germany. The court heard victim-donors were promised upwards of $12,000 for their organs but many said they were never paid and at least two went home “with no money and only one kidney.”
As the prosecutor described it, organ trafficking is “the cruel harvest of the poor.”
In China, it is estimated that 150 people are killed every day for their organs. The most horrific case I’ve heard of in that country is of a six-year-old boy who was found wandering alone in a field, crying for help after his eyes had been gouged out. His eyes were found nearby with the corneas removed, presumably taken by organ traffickers to sell on the black market.
Together with drugs, humans and diamonds, organs have become the subject of an illegal multi-billion-dollar industry, estimated to generate profits of more than $1.2 billion per year. Is this an industry that we want Canadians to support?
In 2015, more than a dozen European Union countries agreed to enforce laws to combat this growing industry. It’s time for Canada to join this global fight.
My bill does not prevent Canadians from travelling abroad to receive an organ transplant through legitimate and legal means. I can appreciate the hardship Canadians face spending months or even years on an organ donor waiting list and we must address that issue as well.
But we cannot continue to allow Canadians to engage in seedy transactions that put vulnerable people in danger.
Senator Salma Ataullahjan represents Ontario in the Senate.
This article appeared in the October 29, 2020 edition of iPolitics.