He saw with his eyes “many children in Argentina, with these long scars on their back“. And from that encounter with the victims without a kidney, he got the courage to denounce. “I authorize you to say that the Pope and the Church consider the sale of a human organ an immoral act. A crime against humanity.
This “crime against humanity” was again at the centre of the attention of the Church on 7 and 8 February in the Summit on the trafficking of human organs and on the transplant tourism, promoted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences where the fight against trafficking in all continents was deepened with spokesman of many states including China, where from 2015 the removal of organs without consent from death row prisoners, was definitively ended.
But what is the trafficking of human organs? It is the recruitment, the transportation, the reception of people living or non-living or of one of their organs through the use of force and threats or kidnapping, deception and the abuse of power. Basically, the single part of the human body is treated as a commodity, to buy or to sell. And becomes transplant tourism if it involves trafficking in organs or trade of transplants, or if the resources dedicated to providing transplants to patients of a country outside their own, compromise the ability of one state to guarantee services for transplant to its own population.
One of the most astonishing cases is certainly the one of the migrants in the desert of Sinai. The authorities discovered hundreds of bodies without vital organs. The refugees tell that the removal of an organ takes place in mobile structures, equipped as hospitals. Mostly, these people are from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.
The traffickers earn 15 thousand dollars for each organ sold in the black market. According to the data of the Global Financial Integrity, one of the greatest world centres of analysis on the illegal financial flows, more than 10% of the transplants that we practice globally every year is illegal.
In average international criminal organizations earn up to 1.4 billion dollars. The two phenomena are mainly due to the shortage of organs for transplant because according to the World Health Organization in a year one million organs are needed, while taking into consideration the data of 2014, legal transplants were only 118,000. The organs for which there is the greatest need are kidney, liver and heart.
These plagues are spread all over the world: in Mexico and other Latin American countries, in Egypt, Pakistan, India, with recipients coming from Canada and the United States, from the countries of western Europe and Australia and from the Gulf States as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Iran is known for its sponsorship of the sale of human organs.
The joint declaration
The participants in the international summit in the Vatican have shared the identikit of the victims of trafficking in human organs. People who live in situations of poverty, unemployment, lack of socio-economic opportunities and therefore more vulnerable, but also all those patients “willing to pay large amounts of money and to travel to other countries as transplant tourists, in order to obtain an organ which will enable them to live”.
Who makes all this possible are dishonest brokers and health operators. For this reason, the commitment to fight these illegal economies, even for responding to the invitation of the Holy Father to fight trafficking in human beings in all its forms, materialized with a joint declaration which implicates all nations and also involves all the religious leaders of the world.
The main points of the document concern the resources that governments must guarantee to achieve self-sufficiency in the donation of organs; the legal framework which allows the prevention and repression of the crimes of transplant as well as the protection of victims.
Also, the joint declaration underlines the importance that in every State health operators and doctors carry out an ethical review of donors and recipients. Another important point concerns the establishment of registers for the retrieval of organs and also of the transplants performed with the possibility to share information through international databases.
Finally, the authorities of each State need tools for the exchange of information on suspected cases of crimes of transplant and the necessary resources to investigate those who are suspected of a crime committed in the country or even outside their own jurisdiction.
In July 2016, the State Police of Palermo and Agrigento, in collaboration with agents of the Central Operation Service of Rome has performed 38 arrests confirming how on the shores of North Africa groups of Egyptians buy from traffickers those migrants who do not have the money to pay for the crossing of the Mediterranean to remove their organs.
Investigations showed even the involvement of mediators in various Italian cities connected with potential customers in Dubai and Israel. The first admission about this mortal traffic was initiated by an Eritrean trafficker arrested in 2014: those migrants who cannot pay the place on the barges are bought by Egyptians criminals for 15 thousand euros because they have the equipment to remove the organs and for transporting them in “special thermal bags”.
The bodies of those who do not survive to the operations are abandoned along the coasts of Egypt or thrown overboard by traffickers during the journey.
According to the analysis of the portal Lookout News, customers are wealthy European and Russian people that do not want to wait for the waiting lists in hospitals, often too long even if legal.
Another area of the Mediterranean route involved is the border between Libya and Tunisia, as reported in anonymous form by officials of the UNHCR. Once arrived in Libya after journeys which can last for months to reach the Italian coasts, hundreds of migrants were taken by force to be tortured and suffer the removal of organs, in particular lungs, kidneys and liver. Even in Europe, therefore, the need of transplants has increased in recent times as a result of the progress of medicine.
But since to the growing demand does not correspond a sufficient offering, instead of encouraging donation as a gesture of generosity, develops, starting from the most vulnerable level of society, the illegal traffic. Often the mediators are part of criminal organizations which hold an important part of the sum of money requested to the user.
But with the law n.236 2016 entered into force last 7 January, also in Italy whoever deals in organs or whoever organizes related travel is now persecuted. It has been in fact inserted in the Penal Code the article 601-bis that punishes the business, also striking whoever organizes or advertise related travel or whoever disseminates, also electronically, announcements to obtain organs.
In addition, the law envisages harsh penalties also to those who are part of a criminal organization that has as its object this crime with the art.416, paragraph 6, of the penal code.
In summary: who organizes a criminal organization of three or more people is punished with imprisonment from three to seven years, but if the organization is directed to make offenses relating the trafficking or the trade in human organs, whoever takes part can be imprisoned from a minimum of five to a maximum of fifteen years.
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