EU ban on trade in organs moves closer

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The Independent Online

Proposals to outlaw "transplant tourism", in which wealthy people travel to poorer countries to buy organs from donors, will be supported by MEPs today.

A report from the Council of Europe found that organ trafficking in countries such as Ukraine and Moldova appeared to be "extremely well organised and extremely mobile", involving networks of brokers, doctors and specialised nurses.

The supply of donated organs has not kept pace with demand. In Western Europe, there are 120,000 patients receiving chronic dialysis treatment. Estimates suggest that between 15 and 30 per cent of transplant patients in Europe die waiting for an organ.

Greece has proposed that organ traffickers be jailed for 10 years or more, and medical staff assisting with any operation be prosecuted. Member states would be left to decide the sentences for those who received the organs.

While the proposal is almost certain to be supported by the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, gaining the backing of EU governments will be more difficult. Britain supports the measure but, while all nations profess to be concerned, some believe it to be a low priority or that the emphasis should be on improving organ donor schemes in member states. Others are worried about legal complications.

Robert Evans, a Labour MEP, argued: "I don't think that the answer is to use wealth and power to lessen the life expectancy of someone in a developing country." He also called for an EU-wide database to co-ordinate legal transplants across Europe and to detect possible illegal ones.

There is little to prevent Europeans from going abroad to buy a replacement organ from a living donor. Germany is currently the only EU state that bans citizens from buying organs anywhere in the world.

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