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Organ Transplants: How the Internet Enables the Dark Side

Euthanasia activists offer to "ease" the donor organ shortage, and so do cartels that exploit the world’s most vulnerable poor

We all know the sunny stories, featuring the wonders of modern medical science. A face transplant gave a young women a second chance at life, courtesy of another young woman who was not so lucky.

Hold the sugar …

There is a cloudier side to the trade. In the Western world, organ donation is becoming difficult to extricate from the push for euthanasia. Days after her 16th birthday, a Belgian girl who had a brain tumor was euthanized at her own request so her liver, kidneys, and lungs could be transplanted into others. A journalist at Belgium’s Le Soir portrays the story as awarm and wonderful moment: “Eva* will celebrate her birthday on Sunday – sixteen years old! – and she has long, patiently chosen her gift: she is going to die.”

As Michael Cook recounts at BioEdge, “The euthanasia took place in a hospital and lasted 36 hours, according to Le Soir. First she was anaesthetized, then intubated and ventilated. Her organs were examined and advertised on the European donation network, Eurotransplant. Finally she received a lethal injection a few days after her 16th birthday.” (October 19, 2023)

Lawyer and author Wesley J. Smith shares some concerns:

First, this was a minor terrified of decline who stated that by donating organs, she believed she could do some good. But for that option, she might not have made that decision.

Second, as far as we know, the girl wasn’t provided suicide prevention services nor assured that palliative care could alleviate her symptoms.

Wesley J. Smith, No to Killing for Organs, Epoch Times, October 21, 2023

The worldwide shortage of donor organs has led, in developed countries, to huge information networks that are happy to accept organs from euthanasia-friendly countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada, especially if they do not require that donors be terminally ill. In the Canadian province of Ontario, the network is called Trillium, after the provincial flower. A 2020 headline in a newspaper from reads, “Medically assisted deaths prove a growing boon to organ donation in Ontario” (Ottawa Citizen). Next year, Canada will also legalize euthanasia for the mentally ill, which will probably increase the supply.

Close up Team of surgeon in uniform perform operation on a patient using laparoscopic equipment at modern cardiac surgery clinic.

Of course, successful organ transplants depend of highly sophisticated medical and communications networks. But they depend even more on a growing supply of organs, which humans cannot just manufacture.

Transplant tourism

China is a key hub for the transplants from doomed political prisoners but that is a story unto itself. In the rest of the world, desperately poor people may sell their organs to transplant tourism networks — or they may be tricked into becoming organ donors. Exodus Road, an anti-trafficking organizing, offers,

Transplant tourism often happens in countries where there are fewer regulations. This is how traffickers can build criminal networks with the coordination of corrupt medical professionals, hospital administrators, laboratory staff, drivers, translators, and law enforcement.

Susan Maginn, “Organ Trafficking Facts,” The Exodus Road, January 16, 2023

Maginn estimates that 10% of organs are illegally removed. It’s hard to know how seriously to take statistics in an area where the perpetrators are “a network of legitimate medical settings with legally certified medical professionals” and the victims are the nameless poor. We can get a clearer picture by looking at some of the stories.

Last year, Kenya’s Foreign Ministry reported rescuing 24 Africans from a cartel in Laos that is believed to be involved in organ harvesting. The rescuees (22 Kenyans, a Ugandan and a Burundian) had contacted Kenyan authorities after job offers there started to sound suspicious:

The ministry noted that the human trafficking menace, once considered an endemic problem in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is now going global, warning that the cartels are now venturing into other parts of the world, particularly Africa and South Asia, luring a new breed of victims.

The new breed includes young and techno-savvy individuals, well-educated, computer literate, and multilingual youth.

The government of Kenya has warned its people to stop applying for online jobs that are advertised in South East Asia without authenticating them, as this exposes them to dangers including the possibility of losing body organs.

Andrew Wasike, “Kenya rescues citizens from suspected organ traffickers,” NilePulse, September 23, 2022

What may almost have happened to those aspiring young techs has happened to others. In one reported case, a Saudi Arabian court awarded a Ugandan domestic worker, Judith Nakintu, nearly $2 million because her right kidney was illegally removed at King Fahad hospital in Jeddah (2022).

Attempts at legislation

Uganda approved a regulation last year that requires returning domestic workers to undergo mandatory testing, to ensure that no organs have been removed.

This year, the country also enacted a law against stealing organs, with penalties up to life imprisonment. How well legislation will curb the trade remains to be seen because Uganda’s government is plagued with corruption of just the sort that frustrates protective laws.

On the other hand, legislation fixes a standard. It encourages record-keeping and enables a more informed discussion of how the system is or isn’t working and why. One must start somewhere.

You may also wish to read: Social media dissolves borders for orphans Sometimes it can create awareness of seemingly insurmountable problems, old and new — child sacrifice and organ harvesting. A blind sort through hundreds of millions of social media users turned up people, not connected to Uganda in any way, who could reach out to help.

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Organ Transplants: How the Internet Enables the Dark Side