Organs Trade Strains Ethics Debate; as a Leading Surgeon Calls for the Trade in Human Organs to Be Legalised, the Western Mail's Health Editor Madeleine Brindley Asks Whether Buying and Selling Body Parts Is Morally Reprehensible or a Drastic Solution to a Growing Problem

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Byline: Madeleine Brindley

LITTLE more than seven months ago, we were outraged that a doctor was facilitating an illegal trade in human organs.

Dr Jarnail Singh, of Nuneaton, Warwickshire, was suspended for six months by the General Medical Council after he advised a patient on how to arrange for a live kidney donor to be flown to the UK from the Indian sub-continent.

But last night a leading figure in the medical profession called for a change to the complex laws governing organ transplantation throughout the UK, to legalise the trade in human organs.

Professor Nadey Hakim, the president of the Royal Society of Medicine's transplant committee, believes such a move will not only end the current global practice of transplant tourism but will also go some way to address the growing shortage of human organs available for transplantation.

``As this trade is going on anyway, why not have a controlled trade where, if someone wants to donate a kidney for a particular price, that would be acceptable?'' he asked.

``If it's done safely, the donor will not suffer.''

However, his controversial beliefs are not shared by others in the medical profession who believe that legalising the buying and selling of organs would amount to little more than ``bio-piracy'' of the third world.

Like many others, Dr John Saunders, the secretary of the Royal College of Physicians' committee for ethical issues in medicine, is opposed to a relaxation of the laws.

``My central objection is based on the commodification of the human body, in which human beings or their parts become another good to buy and sell. It strikes at the heart of humanity.

``And despite the claims of those who would wish to change the law, in practice any trade in human organs is almost inevitably going to lead to the exploitation of the under-privileged and the poor, particularly in the south and east, to the benefit of those in the north and the west.

``It is first world bio-piracy of the third world.''

Trading in human organs is illegal in some 60 countries around the world, but in some countries the practice is rife.

Dr Saunders, who works at Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny, speaks of cases where rich Israelis have travelled to Istanbul to buy organs from poor Moldavians, and there are whispers of shady clinics in the US offering a similar service.

Dr Michael Wilks, the chairman of the British Medical Association's ethics committee, added, ``It's extremely repre-hensible of rich countries to regard poor countries as a source for human organs. ``It would be impossible to set up a process involving one person selling their organs to another that isn't, in some way, likely to be abusive.''

But regardless of how unethical Prof Hakim's comments are regarded, they underline a growing crisis of too many desperately ill patients chasing too few organs.

With more than 5,600 people waiting for a transplant in the UK - almost 400 in Wales alone - it is evident that drastic measures must now be taken to address the mismatch between supply and demand. …