Trading body parts - the law and the ethics
September 26 2005
The Australian Health Policy Institute at the University of Sydney, and The George Institute for International Health co-hosted a seminar on Monday 26 September to debate the ethical and regulatory issues associated with the trade in human organs.
Dr Stephen Jan, Senior Health Economist at The George Institute for International Health reflected on his experiences in India where there is a well-known and burgeoning illegal trade in human organs.
Dr Jan told the audience that in most cases, it’s the poor who provide the body parts and that in the majority of cases where there is a monetary exchange, the amount received averages US $1070 per kidney with the average annual income being US$420.
In 1994, the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA) was passed in India as a response to the concerns raised about the growing trade in human organs. However, Dr Jan argues that this is failing in its objective due to: key commercial interests (notably middlemen/brokers and service providers); the ambiguities and loopholes in the Act; the low monitoring capacity of regulatory authorities; and the pressures and responsibilities exerted on the Authorising Committees.
What lessons are there for Australia? Dr Jan highlighted that whilst Australia has similar legislative provisions to India, there is no real evidence of a trade in organs in Australia. However he did note that there are cases of Australians travelling overseas to purchase organs.
Dr Paul Snelling, President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology and Ms. Mardi Thompson, Chair of the National Consumer Advocacy Committee for Kidney Health Australia provided short commentaries on Dr Jan’s presentation.
Dr Snelling highlighted that there is a definite undersupply of organs available for transplants in Australia and the percentage of living unrelated kidney donors has increased steadily over the last 10 years.
Ms Mardi Thompson concurred with both Dr Jan and Snelling’s presentations and noted that consumers would see regulation as the key to the success of any proposals regarding organ donation.
Audience discussion focused on the case for and against living kidney sales; government regulated organ sales in the local market to address organ shortages; and compensation for organ donors for loss of income and medical treatment.