Past Events

Shopping for Organs: The global trade in human organs

  1. Background
  2. Speaker Profiles
  3. Recommended Resources
  4. Audio Links
  5. Background

    Should I be allowed to buy your kidney? This was one of several key themes addressed at a half-day symposium held on Monday 2nd November 2009 at the House of Lords, Westminster.

    Hosted by BioCentre and sponsored by Shailesh Vara MP and Baroness Verma the symposium entitled “Shopping for Organs: The global trade in human organs” included presentations from representatives from the USA, Europe and UK government departments.

    A practice widely accepted around the world, organ transplantation is an effective therapy for end-stage organ failure. Access is determined by various factors such as cost of health care, the level of technical capacity and perhaps most important availability of organs. However, demand outstrips supply by far due to, even in developed countries, a combination of socio cultural, legal and other factors. With a shortage of indigenous 'supplies' of organs the international organ trade has emerged to plug the gap.

    This trade, politely known as “transplant tourism”, sets in motion a circulation of organs which flows from South to North; from the third world to the first; from the poor to the rich, from female to male bodies.

    In terms of global policy, despite the seminal foundations laid out by the 2008 Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism which calls for transparent regulatory oversight with international accountability, there is still much to be done particularly in terms of action from the transplant and medical communities.

    Following introductions by Matt James, Associate Director of BioCentre and Mr. Shailesh Vara MP who welcomed everyone to the Palace of Westminster, Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes, the first speaker of the afternoon was welcomed to the podium. A recognized world authority on organ trafficking Professor Scheper Hughes, is the Chancellor’s Professor in Medical Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley, USA.  She had just recently returned from Turkey, Moldova, and Israel working on an hour long documentary on Organs Trafficking with Dan Rather for "Dan Rather Reports".

    Commenting on the trade prior to the symposium, Scheper Hughes says, “The ultimate fetish is the idea of life itself as an object of endless medical and technological manipulation…The ‘commodified’ kidney has become an organ of opportunity or an organ of last resort”.

    Drawing upon her wealth of field research and study into the trade of human organs, Scheper-Hughes gave a robust and detailed presentation. Her impassioned reflections on the anthropological consequences which the trade presents were particularly engaging. In a very short space of time Scheper-Hughes ably presented a global perspective on the human organ trade, how it has developed and the incredible global network of actors which exists that helps to keep the trade active.

    Turning from a global to a European perspective, Dr Adamos Adamou gave a very engaging and informative presentation on the work of the European Commission in the field particularly with regard to EU’s communication on organ donation and transplantation. Dr. Adamou was the chair of the working group behind this report. Consequently his experience of this allowed him to bring some welcomed and valuable insight into the policy making process and the direction of possible EU work into the future in light of recent policy developments such as the Declaration of Istanbul and the Lisbon Treaty.

    What is currently happening in the UK was addressed by the two remaining speakers of the afternoon: Adrian McNeil, Chief Executive of the Human Tissue Authority and Triona Norman, Head of Policy, Organ and Tissue Transplantation. Both of the presentations helped to establish a context for understanding the UK’s response to organ donation and trafficking. Mr McNeil’s presentation covered points such as consent and ethical issues and what steps are being taken to regulate living organ donation in the UK. His lucid presentation helped to explain and explore the role of the HTA as regulator and guardian of the Human Tissue Act within the context of organ trafficking. This was particularly beneficial in order to establish a context for understanding the UK’s response to organ donation and trafficking. 

    Ms Norman’s presentation, from the perspective of the UK’s Department of Health, explained some of the key issues and challenges facing organ donation in the UK and the corresponding impact this has on organ trafficking. Whilst clear to point out that under the Human Tissue Act 2004 the buying and selling of organs is illegal in the UK, Norman acknowledged that there is still scope for patients to travel abroad to buy organs and then return to the UK for aftercare. The shortage of organs does tends to drive trafficking and tourism and so key action points for the future include the need to continue to increase donor and transplant rates as well as strengthen cooperation on trafficking internationally and at EU level. 

    To close, Matt James chaired a panel Q&A session where various members of the audience were able to ask questions of the speakers in response to their various presentations. It was clear that there were many more questions that could have been asked but that which time did not permit. However, the Q&A session did allow space for discussion of some pertinent questions including whether organ trafficking could be completely eradicated and what steps can be taken to increase organ donation generally.


    Speaker Profiles

    Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes
    Chancellor’s Professor in Medical Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley, USA

    Professor nancy scheper-hughesNancy Scheper -Hughes is Chancellor's Professor of   Athropology and Chair, Doctoral Program in Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley where she is co-founder (with Prof. Lawrence Cohen)   and Director of Organs Watch, a university based, anthropological and medical human rights documentation project. Scheper-Hughes  research, writings, and teaching focus on violence, suffering, and premature death as these are experienced on the margins and peripheries of the late modern world. She has written  two  award winning  ethnographic monographs --  Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland, California Press, (new expanded edition, 2000)  and Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (1993), as well as edited several books on radical  psychiatry (Psychiatry Inside Out, edited with Anne M Lovell, Columbia University Press,1978), child survival (Child Survival, 1987, Kluwer and Small Wars : the Cultural Politics of Childhood, edited with C.Sargent,1998,California Press).

    Death without Weeping was the recipient of many book prizes and awards, including the J. I. Staley Prize, (School of American Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico) for "imaginative works that have gone beyond traditional frontiers in anthropology and given new dimensions to our understanding of humanity"; Wellcome Medal for Anthropology Applied to Medical Problems; (Wellcome Trust and the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland); the Bryce Wood Book Award, (Latin American Studies Association); Premio Internazionale di Studi Etnoantropologici (the Pitre Prize) for ethnography (Centro Internazionale di Etnostoria, Palermo, Sicily); Eileen Basker Memorial Prize in Gender and Reproduction (Society for Medical Anthropology). Death without Weeping was also a finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award.

    Since 1997 Scheper-Hughes has been involved in a multi-sited, ethnographic, and medical human rights oriented study of the global traffic in humans (living and dead) for their organs to serve the needs and desires of international transplant patients. Her research has taken her to the sites and scenes of transplant trafficking in a dozen countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Asia in an attempt to identify the criminal networks that bring together desperate buyers and equally desperate kidney sellers, surgeons, and local organs brokers. 

    As a public anthropologist Scheper-Hughes has  collaborated with Ministries of Health, international transplant societies, the WHO, the Council of Europe, US Congress the UN Trafficking Office (Vienna) and with human rights workers, journalists, and federal police in an effort to effort to interrupt the most egregious criminal networks involved in organs trafficking.  She has published widely on the topic of global justice and the traffic in humans for organs  in scholarly, medical, human rights, anthropological journals and in the media.

    Scheper-Hughes has served as a consultant on organs trafficking to US Congress, Brazilian legislature, South African, Israeli and Turkish Ministries of Health and served on special panels of the Council of Europe, the UN Anti-Trafficking Office and the WHO.

    She has just recently returned from Turkey, Moldova, and Israel working on an hour long documentary on Organs Trafficking  with Dan Rather for "Dan Rather Reports".

    Dr. Adamos Adamou
    Former Member of the European Parliament

    Dr adamos adamouDr. Adamos Adamou is a Cypriot politician and was formerly a Member of the European Parliament for the Progressive Party of Working People, sitting with the European United Left–Nordic Green Left group from 2004 to 2009. He sat on the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

    Dr. Adamou was also the rapporteur for the European Parliament resolution on organ donation and transplantation.

    Administrative positions

    • ESMO (European Society for Medical Oncology) National Representative 1999 - 2002. 
    • ESMO full member since 1989
    • ESMO DCTF chair  2006-today
    • ASCO full member.
    • Elected Member of the Board of the Pancyprian Medical Association 1999 - 2002.
    • Member of the Scientific Committee of the Pancyprian Medical Association(1999-2002)
    • Member of the Board of the Cyprus Nursing School 1992 – 2002. 
    • Member of the Drug National Committee 1999 – 2002.
    • Elected member of the Board of Cyprus Anticancer Society.(1996-today)
    • President of the Committee on Information of the Cyprus Anticancer Society(1996-2002)
    • Chair of the Scientific Committee Bone Marrow Donors Karaiskakion Foundation. (1998-today)
    • Member of the Hellenic co-operative Oncology Group
    • Member of the Hellenic association of Medical Oncologists
    • Member of the Cyprus Medical Association and chairman of its Bioethics Committee.
    • Member of the Cyprus Anticancer Association and chairman of its information committee.
    • Executive Board of the newly set up of the Cyprus Centre of Haematological Malignancies – Chair 2009-

    Activities in the European Parliament

    Member of the Cyprus House of Representatives (2003-2004)

    Member of the European Parliament, 2004-2009

    • Member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left
    • Chairman of the Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council (2004-2006)
    • Member of the Conference of Delegation Chairmen (2004-2006)
    • Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (2004-2009)
    • Substitute for the Committee on Culture and Education (2004-2006)
    • GUE/NGL Coordinator for the Committee on Culture and Education (2004-2006)
    • Substitute for the LIBE committee (2006-2009)
    • Member of the Euromeditteranean Parliamentary Committee (2006-2009)
    • Substitute for the delegations for the relations with Turkey (2006-2009)
    • GUE/NGL co-ordinator for ENVI committee.
    • Substitute for the Delegation to the EU-Chile Joint Parliamentary Committee
    • Representative of the GUE/NGL group at the Health working group of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
    • Co-Founder of the MEPs Against Cancer Forum, formally launched on November 30th, 2005.(Co-chair)
    • Vice-president of the Intergroup on Bioethics
    • Co-Vice-President of the Intergroup on Health and Consumer Protection
    • Active at the Osteoporosis and Breast Cancer Intergroups
    • Active participation in various roundtables on health issues
    • Co-founder and co-chair of Parliament Heart group
    • Participation in various Conferences as a guest speaker, such as the Patient Safety Conference, organised in April 2005 by the Standing Committee of European Doctors, under the Luxemburg EU Presidency (more information upon request). Also speaker on ESMO and ASCO Conferences mainly about political interventions in the Fight Against Cancer and the inequalities in the treatment of the disease and the access of patients to the new drugs in Europe and in the Developing World.

    Triona Norman

    Head of Policy, Organ and Tissue Transplantation, UK Department of Health

    Triona normanTriona Norman has worked in a number of policy and operational jobs in Central Government including the Department of Health and Department for Work and Pensions.
    Over the last few years she has worked closely with the Organ Donation Taskforce to help identify and implement the infrastructure changes necessary to increase donor rates in the UK, and with the EU Commission and Member States to develop European legislation to support quality and safety standards in tissue, cell and organ donation and transplantation across the EU.







    Adrian McNeil
    Chief Executive, Human Tissue Authority

    Adrian mcneilAdrian McNeil was appointed as the Chief Executive of the Human Tissue Authority in July 2005. Immediately before this appointment, he was a senior civil servant in the Department of Health (DH) working on human tissue policy. One of his primary responsibilities when working in the DH was to take the Human Tissue legislation through the UK Parliament.

    Adrian’s career has spanned a diverse range of policy and operational posts in central Government departments – including the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Health and Social Security. He also worked for three years in the National Health Service where he managed policy and operations relating to Disablement Services.

    Since becoming Chief Executive, he has established the Human Tissue Authority as the statutory body in England, Wales and Northern Ireland responsible for regulating the removal, use, storage and disposal of human tissue – including the regulation of living organ donation. And he has also established the HTA as the Competent Authority in the UK responsible for implementing the European Tissue and Cells Directive.

    Shailesh Vara MP
    Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire

    Shailesh vara mpShailesh is the Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire, having been elected in May 2005. He is presently the Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons.

    He was educated at Aylesbury Grammar School and Brunel University and qualified as a solicitor. He has worked in the City and the West End of London, as well as in Hong Kong. He is married with two children.

    Shailesh has held various posts in the Conservative Party including being a Vice-Chairman of the Party during 2001-2005. Apart from his shadow ministerial brief, Shailesh holds a range of other responsibilities. These include being Joint-Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children, Treasurer of the BBC All Party Parliamentary Group and Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of Conservative Lawyers. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Great Fen Project, which seeks to create a 3,700 hectare wetland in North West Cambridgeshire.

    During 2005-6, Shailesh was a member of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and in 2006 he served on the Standing Committee of the Companies Bill, scrutinising the largest Bill ever to go through Parliament. Moreover, during 2006 he was Joint Secretary of the Conservative Backbench Group on Foreign affairs.



    The Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism




    Audio recordings of this Symposium can be downloaded here