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Cuba cashes in on transplants

Fidel Castro's Cuban government tried to earn badly needed foreign currency by encouraging the transplant of brain tissue from still-warm foetuses to wealthy foreign victims of Parkinson's disease.

Dr Hilda Molina, Cuba's leading brain surgeon, told the Independent she had broken with Mr Castro's regime after being pushed to transplant foetal brain tissue into Parkinson's victims from the US, Canada, South America and Europe. The patients were charged up to $20,000 (pounds 12,500), which went to the government, while she earned $16 (pounds 10) a month, she said.

Dr Molina, 52, has quit as director of Havana's leading neurosurgery clinic as well as resigning from the Communist Party and as a deputy of Mr Castro's rubber-stamp parliament. Known worldwide for her research into Parkinson's disease, she opted out partly because of the government's mercenary approach and partly because she returned to the Catholic faith she had rejected as a youth in line with the Marxist direction of Mr Castro's 1959 revolution.

The women who had state-paid abortions were not told that their foetuses would be dissected for transplants, she said.

Dr Molina is now trying to emigrate but has been refused permission and is being followed by security agents. She has written to world figures such as the Pope, Mother Teresa and John Major about her plight.

Exiled Cuban doctors in Miami say the Castro regime's efforts to earn hard currency from "health tourism" raises not only the ethical question of abortion per se but the spectre of encouraging abortion to provide foetuses for the brain transplants. They say abortions have been carried out on Cuban women without their consent.

At least 50 foetuses were used to provide brain tissue to Parkinson's victims in Britain under experimental conditions between 1987 and 1993 until the field's leading researcher, Professor Edward Hitchcock of the University of Birmingham, died. Debate continues over the ethics and effectiveness of such transplants.

Full story, page 3