Preventing Trafficking in Organs for Transplantation: An Important Facet of the Fight Against Human Trafficking

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 Journal of Human Trafficking, 2015; 1(1):56-64.


Alexander M. Capron and Francis L. Delmonico

Most countries now have national legislation that outlaws both human trafficking and organ trafficking. However, international conventions and domestic laws alone have not been enough to stop the trade in organs. As of 2007, a conservative estimate was that 5% of the approximately 100,000 organs transplanted annually were derived from exploiting the poorest and most vulnerable people in society; anti-trafficking efforts have since reduced, though not eliminated, this practice. The Declaration of Istanbul (DoI) was created in 2008 to engage medical professional societies to collaborate with governments and others in combating organ sales, transplant tourism, and trafficking in human organs. In 2010, the Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group (DICG) was formed to actively promote and to monitor the implementation of the DoI principles. The removal of prohibitions on organ purchases, which is now being promoted in some wealthy nations, is unlikely to shorten transplant waitlists (because organ sales crowd out voluntary, unpaid donation) and would be based on the false view that such sales do not exploit the sellers. To combat such exploitation, the DICG advocates for ratification and enforcement of the new “Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs,” as a complement the Palermo Protocol to the United Nations organized crime convention that prohibits human trafficking for organ removal. To increase ethical organ donation by living related donors, the DICG encourages countries to adopt means to cover donors’ financial costs, which now discourage donation. It also works with the World Health Organization to encourage ministries of health to develop deceased donation to its maximum potential toward the goal of achieving national self-sufficiency in organ transplantation so that patients do not need to travel to foreign destinations to undergo organ transplantation using kidneys and partial livers purchased from poor and vulnerable people. Success in combating human trafficking for organ removal and organ trafficking will be greatly enhanced through organizations like the DICG forging strong relationships with human rights organizations.

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