ORGAN TRADE: ‘Organs Watch’ Will Monitor ‘Trafficking’
Organs Watch -- a new program designed to "investigate reports of abuses and identify hot spots" of organ trade activity -- will be launched today at the University of California, Berkeley. The plan, which received $160,000 from UC Berkeley and an additional $230,000 from the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute, was initiated by four professors -- UC Berkeley's Nancy Scheper- Hughes and Lawrence Cohen and Columbia University's David and Sheila Rothman. The group hopes to "force a discussion" about the organ trade and create new international legislation, taking into account the "different contexts" of "different countries" (Locke, AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/5). Researchers have discovered that the high demand for transplants over the past five years is "fueling the one-way trade of organs from the poor to the rich, from women to men and from dark-skinned to light-skinned people" (Ferris, Contra Costa Times, 11/5). Thus, arguing that organ trafficking "victimizes the poor, women and minorities," the professors hope to "define the line between ethical and exploitation." The researchers have already documented growing commercialization in South Africa, Brazil, India, China, and the United States. Medical officials from a dozen countries throughout the world will report to the new center after visiting morgues, interviewing the police and investigating reports of stolen organs, some of which have taken on "the color of urban legends." Co-founder David Rothman said, "First what we want to do is separate fiction from fact. This is an area where rumors run rampant" (AP/Modesto Bee, 11/5). Many reports are unconfirmed, but cases -- as in the "kidney belt" of southern India -- are well documented and reveal a growing market for kidneys. Research has found that poor people are opting to sell their organs to alleviate some of their personal debt and to "create new options" for their families. Organs Watch will also monitor inequalities specifically in the United States. Berkeley professor Cohen claims that "American doctors and patients are less receptive to transplanting from one race to another. As a result, blacks, who make fewer ... donations, also end up waiting longer to receive them" -- a practice he calls "organ apartheid" (Contra Costa Times, 11/5). Drawing "mixed reactions" from those in the organ transplant industry, critics fear "the attempt to debunk transplant rumors could backfire, scaring off potential donors." But all appear to agree that if such abuses are occurring and if the center is operated "honestly," then it is a "worthwhile societal goal" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.