Doctor 'offered to help arrange organ from live donor'
Thursday 29 August 2002
A British GP appeared before the General Medical Council yesterday accused of offering to obtain an organ from a live donor.
Dr Bhagat Makkar is alleged to have offered to arrange a kidney from a living donor, explaining that "there are plenty of poor people in these [Indian] cities", unaware that he was being secretly taped.
The doctor, it was claimed yesterday, not only wanted payment but failed to point out the dangers of unrelated donors.
In an evening "private" meeting at his Lewisham surgery, the 62-year-old GP allegedly told a man he thought was the son of a kidney patient: "No problem, I can fix that for you. Do you want it done here, do you want it done in Germany or you want it done in India?"
Laughing as he explained that England was cheaper than Germany, The doctor added: "Asian donors are available here, I find them. I know the consultant who is in Guy's hospital."
Unaware that he was talking to undercover journalist Paul Samrai, Dr Makkar handed over promotional literature for his new company.
"That's the company. We are going to bring it in the market, Health International Service Ltd. That's our brochure," he said. He explained that he was retiring that day and planned to spend his time managing operations.
Despite an international ban on the sale of body parts, the black market is booming in countries such as India, where poverty is endemic.
With 7,000 patients waiting for kidney transplants in Britain and only 3,000 operations a year, a falling number of available cadaver organs and the greater success rate of living donors is driving a trade in wealthy, "donation tourists".
In the UK it is banned under the Human Organ Transplant Act 1989, as well as GMC guidelines, which state that donations should be made altruistically, rather than commercially to protect the "vulnerable and the poor" from exploitation.
Bradley Martin, barrister for the GMC, said yesterday that Dr Makkar had been guilty of serious professional misconduct by offering to arrange kidney transplants in the UK or overseas using a living donor, "with payment, including payment for the living donor to you".
The Professional Conduct Committee was told that Mr Samrai, aided by another journalist, had asked a kidney hospital in Jalandhar, northern India, for a British GP who could arrange a transplant for his father and was given Dr Makkar's contact details.
Following a brief phone call, the doctor agreed to meet the two journalists at his south London surgery.
Mr Samrai used a high powered tape recorder hidden in a bag to record the conversation. The following day he called the GP again – this time from the offices of the Sunday Times – and, it is alleged, discussed a fee for a living donor, pointing out that it would be much higher in the UK.
Yesterday the committee listened to a tape of the original meeting as the men discussed the deal in English and Punjabi. The doctor, Mr Samrai told the hearing, was "very helpful, very willing".
In the recording he could be heard saying: "It's who you know, where you know. In this field I'm working from last one year ... finding the good deals, where is the cheapest." Later he is heard to say: "In Bombay there are loads of poor people, in Punjab, they will say 'here comes another rich one, let's fleece him'."
However, Charles Foster, for Dr Makkar, insisted that the GMC's translation of the Punjabi text was inaccurate.
He says his client, who denies the charges, did meet with the journalist and speak by phone but did not ask for money.
Mr Foster said Dr Makkar had said to the journalist: "Don't pay me anything and there is not need to pay the hospital either. Once everything is finished we will pay the hospital from our fund and the donor and any other expenses and then the bill will come to you at home."
Organ donation between unrelated people is only permitted in this country under strict guidelines, regulated by the Unrelated Live Transplant Regulatory Authority. The legislation does not allow payment under any circumstances.
Dr Makkar, the son of a doctor, gained his medical qualifications in Rajasthan in 1969. Two years later he moved to the UK.
Mr Foster claimed his client had been entrapped by the journalist, who later passed his information on to the Sunday Times for publication. "What these journalists wanted was not a triumph of truth, justice and righteousness, it was a colourful story that would maximise their circulation," he said.
Furthermore, Mr Foster claimed, Dr Makkar's right to privacy, under Section 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, had been breached.
The hearing, which is expected to last three days, continues.
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