Friday, August 21, 2009

Trading in Humans

In many areas of the world today, human body parts are bought and sold illegally. Sometimes without the consent of the donor. This is not a new issue but it has come to my attention in various ways recently. I can remember reading a news article three or four years ago about a woman somewhere in the developing world who woke up from a routine surgery to discover that while she was under anesthesia her husband had authorized the doctor to remove part of her kidney, which he (her husband) sold.

The incidents I wish to bring to your attention today are no less distressing. On the contrary, in some ways they are much worse.

Selling body parts in Egypt: An American friend who is currently attending grad school in Egypt recently wrote about an experience in a poor neighborhood on the fringe of Cairo. He is currently working with COFS, the Coalition for Organ-Failure Solutions. COFS is an NGO in Egypt which combats organ trafficking and the exploitation of the poor and refugees as a source of organ and tissue supplies. COFS has recently begun work on a documentary about the issue, and my friend's visit to the poor neighborhood was to conduct interviews for the documentary. Here is an excerpt from his blog:

Both interviews went as planned, first the husband, and then his wife. The husband at one point during the interview pulled up his shirt to reveal his scar from where they had cut to remove his kidney. The wife’s interview was a lot more distressing than her husband’s for Amr, as at one point he had to stop the interview because he started to breakdown. All I can say is that it was in this situation that I was fortunate enough not to know Arabic fluently to understand the procedures and horrific details of their experience.

Read the rest here.

Hunting Albinos:
The second issue I wish to address here is one I have read about in the news recently, and that is the hunting of Albinos in Burundi. Witch doctors in Tanzania provide their customers with potions made from the body parts of albinos, which reputedly bring fortune in life, love, and business. Arms, Legs, and genitals are considered the most valuable, and reportedly fetch a lot of cash - as a result, albinos are being hunted for their parts. This is part of an account told to Al-Jazeera journalists at a safe house in Burundi:

Jeremiah began to tell us how one night his brother, Daniel, also an albino, was visited by their older non-albino brother, accompanied by a group of unfamiliar men.

That night Daniel was slaughtered by the older brother who sold his body parts for $240, Jeremiah later discovered.

"I saw my brother's dead body. All his limbs, arms and legs, were chopped off and gone. Afterwards my brother and my sister-in-law were overheard fighting over the money they had received selling his body parts.

"Furthermore, we have evidence that the murderers came through my older brother's compound and spent some time in his house discussing how they were going to kill him. I was lucky not be home at the time," Jeremiah said.

Jeremiah's story is not unique. To read more about the situation of albinos in Burundi and Tanzania, go here and here.

Human trafficking is not an issue which is new on the international scene. Quite the contrary - human trafficking is frequently the subject of political activism, government programs, and NGO attention. There are many organizations which strive to end the international child sex trade or try to prevent cross-border trade which lands illegal immigrants in sweat shops - or worse - in foreign countries. Even illegal organ trading is not a new subject - but it is one which seems to receive far too little attention.

There are many issues here, most of which are not simple or easy to solve. Not only are humans being hunted for body parts to be used in magic potions, some people are even driven to selling their own body parts. Poverty-stricken people in places such as Egypt are being exploited for their organs and tissue. How is one forced to make such a choice, to sell one's own kidney, for example? If you are reading this blog, chances are you are lucky enough not to be one of those people. What if you weren't so lucky?

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