AUSTRALIA STILL A PREDATOR COUNTRY IN HUMAN ORGAN TRADE
Source: PM with Mark Colvin, Australia
MARK COLVIN: The global effort to stamp out the commercial trade in human organs is making headway but the Transplantation Society says there is evidence Australia is still a predator country.
The commercial trade in organs is illegal and the transplants are medically risky.
But it's still happening and one renal expert says some Australians who take part don't seem to face any legal consequences.
Simon Lauder reports.
SIMON LAUDER: The immediate past president of the Transplantation Society, Dr Jeremy Chapman, says in the last few years the number of commercial transplants globally has dropped from about 10,000 to just 2,000. But there's evidence some Australians are still helping to create the market for illegal transplants, travelling overseas to buy organs.
JEREMY CHAPMAN: The demand comes from the fact that there are too many people wanting too few organs in every country of the world. So wherever there are rich people, they're preying on where there are poor people.
SIMON LAUDER: Is there international transplant tourism happening?
JEREMY CHAPMAN: Absolutely.
SIMON LAUDER: Can a rich Australian go overseas and buy an organ?
JEREMY CHAPMAN: Not legally.
SIMON LAUDER: Is it happening?
JEREMY CHAPMAN: There are a few instances of patients returning from overseas, said to have had an organ.
I know of one patient who was heading for a country overseas; told the unit that they would be unable to come in for dialysis tomorrow, because they were shooting her donor tomorrow.
SIMON LAUDER: The President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology, Professor Randall Faull, says he's also aware of suspicious cases.
RANDALL FAULL: I'm been reasonably closely involved in a couple of instances here where a patient who's been on regular dialysis has suddenly disappeared without notice and then has returned several weeks later with a transplant and had admitted that they'd gone to another country and got the transplant.
SIMON LAUDER: While the commercial trade in organs is illegal, Professor Faull says he's not aware of anyone being penalised for it.
RANDALL FAULL: In my limited personal experience with a couple of cases of this the individuals have come back to Australia and their treatment has been continued when they've returned here; and they've not to my knowledge received any direct punishment as you put it.
SIMON LAUDER: Canadian human rights lawyer, David Matas, has investigated the harvesting of organs from death row inmates and political prisoners in China.
Mr Matas says there's evidence most of the 10,000 organ transplants which happen each year in China are the result of organ harvesting.
DAVID MATAS: We had investigators phoning in to Chinese hospitals, asking the hospitals if they had organs of Falun Gong practitioners for sale and we get admissions throughout China, which we have on tape saying "yes we do", or "no we don't, but you can go to this hospital", or "we used to".
And we've got these advertisements for short waiting times on hospital websites at big prices and the short waiting times mean somebody's being killed for their organs on demand when the patients arrive.
SIMON LAUDER: Mr Matas says a few years ago China was a popular destination for those in the market for a new organ, but now most of the organs being harvested go to local recipients.
Moves to combat transplant tourism have gathered pace in recent years. Many countries which have previously been targeted by people needing new organs, including China, the Philippines and Pakistan have made laws against organ trafficking.
And most countries in the world have signed the Istanbul declaration against organ trading.
Dr Jeremy Chapman says the only way to guarantee it ends completely is for each country to cater for its own needs.
JEREMY CHAPMAN: Improve the organ donation rate as this country is doing. The national authority created by the Rudd government is making inroads into the deficits that we have in this country. We have to work hard in every country of the world to ensure that patients do not need to go an perform illegal acts to save what they think are their lives, by undertaking very risky procedures in unhygienic places for large sums of money.
SIMON LAUDER: Professor of transplantation surgery at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Richard Allen, says it's also important for donor registries to rely more on deceased donors.
Professor Allen says the more living donors are relied on for organs, the greater the opportunities for illegal trade.
RICHARD ALLEN: In an unsupervised situation, as is the case if there's commercialisation for example, these donors are not going to be cared for if they're, for example a rice farmer in the south of Vietnam who's offering a kidney to someone else in Vietnam; no-one's going to be responsible for them in a country where only 10 per cent of the population actually manages to get treatment for kidney failure when it happens.
SIMON LAUDER: About half of Australia's kidney transplant patients rely on living donors.