A new international pact is needed to ban trafficking in human organs, tissues and cells, protect victims and punish offenders, says a report issued on Tuesday by the United Nations and Council of Europe.
Selling body parts was not just unethical, it also led to greater health risks for both donor and recipient than free, voluntary transplants, the 98-page report said.
We affirm as a primary principle no financial gain should be coincident with obtaining organs and tissues for transplant, University of Pennsylvania academic Arthur Caplan, one of the report's authors, told a news conference.
Despite proposals to create a legal market in commercial transplants, it seems to us that money-for-parts is still a situation that exploits the poor, that people do not have choices in nearly all parts of the world when they sell an organ, Caplan said.
Although data on the scale of organ trafficking was scarce, the report quoted estimates that 5 percent to 10 percent of an estimated 68,000 annual kidney transplants around the world resulted from the practice.
The report highlighted what it called transplant tourism, in which people from rich countries in western Europe, North America and parts of Asia went to poorer ones in Africa, Asia, eastern Europe and South America to obtain organs.
A package that included the travel and the transplantation procedure could cost from $70,000 to $160,000, it said, with most of that going to professionals and intermediaries involved rather than to the donor.
Impoverished and vulnerable people sell organs to solve their desperate economic needs, said the report, presented to U.N. delegates at a meeting earlier on Tuesday. Abuse, fraud and coercion are common.
The health of organ-sellers declined in 58 to 86 percent of cases, according to various studies, the report said. As for recipients, a study of Canadians who bought organs abroad found a 60 percent three-year survival rate of the grafted part, significantly lower than in altruistic donations.
The Council of Europe, a 47-nation pan-European human rights body, already has a convention against organ trafficking, but there is no U.N. treaty, although the world body has outlawed trafficking in people for the purpose of transplants.
A 2004 General Assembly resolution urged member states to adopt laws against organ trafficking, but the report said these still did not exist or were ignored in many countries, although Caplan said the situation was improving.
The report called for an international legal instrument to define trafficking and set out the measures to prevent such trafficking and protect and assist the victims, as well as the criminal-law measures to punish the crime.
Carmen Prior, an Austrian public prosecutor who was also a co-author of the report, told the news conference punishments should aim primarily at intermediaries and medical staff involved.
Rachel Mayanja, a senior U.N. official on women's issues, said she would like to see the General Assembly start work on a binding convention as soon as possible, but declined to say how long it might take for one to be developed.