Euro MPs seek an EU ban on buying and selling organs

STRASBOURG (Reuters) – European Union lawmakers yesterday called on member states to bar wealthy EU citizens from buying organs from poor donors outside the bloc – a trade dubbed «transplant tourism.» According to police intelligence, the traffic in organs from poor Eastern European and Asian donors to rich Middle Eastern and European patients appears to be organized and involves networks of brokers, doctors and specialized nurses. But concerns among some EU states have stalled negotiations on the draft ban, and approval by the bloc’s governments, needed for the ban to come into force, is unlikely anytime soon. «Current EU law covers trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes or labor, but not the donation of human organs. We must close that legal loophole,» said Robert Evans, a British Labor member of the European Parliament. Backing proposals tabled by Greece earlier this year, the EU assembly also urged member states to get more citizens to sign up as donors to fight the severe shortage of organs, the main cause of the illegal trade. Evans, who was the assembly’s rapporteur on the matter, also called for an EU-wide database to coordinate legal transplants across the bloc and to detect possible illegal ones. While equally concerned about the trade in organs, some EU governments are cautious about imposing any ban that could have negative consequences on legal life-saving organ transplants and medical research, diplomats said. Under the proposals, trafficking in organs should be punishable by jail terms of 10 years or more. Athens proposed that a ban should apply not only in all EU members states, but also cover cases involving an EU citizen buying an organ abroad. Altruistic organ donation, for example within families, would not be covered by the ban, nor would selling blood for transfusions or sperm for fertility treatments. Any ban would need backing by all 15 EU states before being enforced, but due to the reservations expressed by some, negotiations on the proposed ban have not yet started. The organ trade is mainly centered around kidneys because donors can live comfortably with just one. A simple blood-type match can make a transplant successful. While all EU countries except Austria have banned paying for organs, there is nothing to prevent Europeans from going abroad to buy a replacement organ from a living donor in a country where the practice is not illegal. Germany is the only EU state where it is illegal for citizens to buy organs anywhere in the world.