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The Rise of Black-Market Organ Trafficking

The Rise of Black-Market Organ Trafficking

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By Michelle Beshears, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

According to the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) more than 2,000 names are added to the national waiting list for organ donations every month, which already has a waiting list of over 100,000 patients.

The need far outweighs the current supply of legally obtained organs. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 18 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant in the United States alone. However, the issue of supply and demand for organs is not limited to the U.S. This is an international problem that stems from the fact that there are just not enough donors to supply people in dire need of a life-saving organ transplant.

The laws in the United States (as well as many countries around the globe) prohibit the sale of organs. However, these laws seem to only fuel profiteers in the black market organ trade. Many patients are willing to turn to the black market and pay big money for a life-saving organ. Why not?

In reality, the law provides little deterrent to a patient who will likely die without the organ. And, for those impoverished people around the world who are in desperate need for money, they see the selling of their organs as the answer to their prayers.

However, in reality, the real profiteers in these situations are the brokers. In many cases the organ donor is paid very little for their organ compared to what the broker makes. In addition, the facility and the professional and para-professional personnel who are involved in the harvesting of the organs make a lot of money as well.

In the United States, the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, Pub. L. 98-507, forbids any sale of organs that affects interstate commerce with a penalty of five years imprisonment and/or a $50,000 fine. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Pub. L. 106-386, was first passed and was reauthorized in 2008. However, organ trafficking is not specifically included because the Act’s primary focus is the illicit trade in sex and in illegal immigration.

The truth is that even though the U.S. Code characterizes trafficking as ‘‘a transnational crime with national implications,’’ (22 U.S.C. § 7101(b)(24) (2010)), it is rare that trafficking is prosecuted in domestic courts. This is largely due to the fact that in most cases prosecutors do not desire to prosecute the recipients or the sellers. The belief is that in most cases people selling their organs are coerced and forced to do so. However, in reality, they are often compelled to do so by their destitute circumstances. Many of the sellers are so poor that they see this as their only way to earn much needed financial resources to survive.

However, the current supply shortage of organs may extend beyond an issue of the wealthy taking advantage of the poor and impoverished. There have been recent reports of human trafficking and possible organ harvesting from unwilling victims in Mexico, the UK and China:

Bharti Patel, the chief executive of ECPAT UK, the child protection charity organization, indicated that these are not isolated incidents. Rather, there are an increasing number of children being captured in groups for the purpose of organ harvesting.

This leads to the question of what can be done to help stop incidents of human trafficking for the purpose of illegal organ trade and/or the exploitation of impoverished people around the world?

The truth is, unless something is done the issue of a shortage of organs around the world is not going to disappear and so the market for the illegal trading of organs will continue to thrive.

Should international law enforcement agencies take a tougher stance on current standing laws? Should laws be repealed to allow for the legalization of organ trade? Is there anything more that could be done to encourage the willingness of the public to donate freely, thus eliminating the large disparity currently seen in supply and demand?

About the Author: Michelle L. Beshears earned her baccalaureate degrees in social psychology and criminal justice and graduate degrees in human resource development and criminology from Indiana State University. She most recently completed her Ph.D. in Business Administration with a specialization in Criminal Justice.Michelle served in the U.S. Army for 11 years. She obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant prior to attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia where she earned her commission. As a commissioned officer she led numerous criminal investigations and worked with several external agencies as well. As a civilian, she has worked with the local sheriff’s department, state drug task force and FBI. Michelle is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University and is full-time faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies. You can contact her at Michelle.Beshears(at)mycampus.apus.edu.

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