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August 24, 2006

Anyone who doubts that there are terrible human rights abuses in the world should consider the latest news on “transplant tourism.” This is the practice where rich Americans go overseas to a less developed country to purchase an organ for transplant.

Perhaps you have kidney failure, and don’t wish to endure the long wait for a new organ in the United States. Just head for the Philippines, where you can buy a transplant operation for $100,000, of which the donor may receive as little as $1000.

Long waiting lists for transplants have given rise to a market that exploits and victimizes the poor. According to one 71-year-old Canadian, “When you’re desperate, morality goes out the window” (as reported by CBC News). But such desperate measures have a sinister side that even the transplant tourists do not suspect, or perhaps choose to ignore.

It is well known that transplanted organs in China often come from executed prisoners. The shocking news is that many of the donors are in prison simply because they are members of Falun Gong, whose only crime was practicing the meditation and exercise that this religious group recommends.

Consider the report in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch on August 22nd. Reporter Deborah Shelton relates the story of Huangui Li, a 62 year-old Chinese woman arrested in 2001 for distributing banned literature. Ms. Li was taken to a hospital where physicians examined her fitness to be an organ donor. She believes that her high blood pressure (making her organs unsuitable for transplant) may have saved her life. Ms. Li now lives in the U.S.

The report documents a large number of abuses: between 2002 and 2003, as many as 2000 Falun Gong had their corneas removed at detention centers in a number of Chinese provinces. In a six-year period, 41,500 organs were removed from prisoners, many of them Falun Gong.

Even if the organs don’t come from prisoners, the gap between rich and poor means that transplant tourism will always be inherently exploitative. Such practices are illegal in many countries of the world, and immoral by any standard. Immanuel Kant has said that human beings should always be ends, and never means. In China and elsewhere, this standard has been turned on its head.

WHO Bulletin on Organ Trafficking

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