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Council of Europe; United Nations: Organ Trafficking Treaty Proposed

(Oct. 15, 2009) On October 13, 2009, a study on human organ trafficking, issued jointly by the United Nations and the Council of Europe, was released. (TRAFFICKING IN ORGANS, TISSUES AND CELLS AND TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE REMOVAL OF ORGANS (2009), Council of Europe website, available at
.) It concluded that a new treaty was needed to prevent trafficking in organs, tissues, and cells (OTC) and that this crime should be distinguished from trafficking in persons. The proposed agreement could protect victims and provide a basis for prosecuting offenders. (International Pact Needed to Prevent Organ Trafficking, UN-Backed Study Says, UN NEWS CENTRE, Oct. 13, 2009, available at

Rachel Mayanja, who serves as a special advisor on gender issues to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has said she hopes the General Assembly will take the first steps toward a treaty on trade in OTC soon. She conveyed the wish that “the study will be presented to the Assembly, and that the issue will be put on the agenda … .” Mayanja added that work on a binding convention should “start as soon as possible.” (Id.)

The report noted that an estimated five to ten percent of transplanted kidneys have been trafficked and says that since there are large profits to be made, OTC trafficking can be hard to track. The trade may take the form of “transplant tourism,” in which wealthy potential recipients travel to countries lacking protections for live donors to receive the organs. (Id.) The report recommends that one component of the new treaty be data collection on organ trafficking, with a gender breakdown to determine if the pattern is different for male and female victims. (Id.)

The treaty would prohibit profiting from the sale of the human body or its parts, but encourage voluntary donations of organs, especially from the deceased. One of the authors of the study, Arthur Caplan, who directs the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, stressed that OTC trafficking victims tend to be deeply impoverished people whose bodies or body parts are exploited. Caplan elaborated the danger the current situation poses for the poor, stating:

The poor person is usually illiterate, not given any choice in the sense that they have no other job or occupation to make the sale, they wind up sicker, they wind up with no one paying attention to them, they sometimes wind up dead, they usually wind up regretting from the studies that we've seen that they did the sale because they have no follow-up. … What looks like perhaps a chance to take somebody out of poverty winds up being a situation in which the deeply impoverished are exploited for the sale, because there is no other way for them to make a living, they can only do it once, and the people who deal with the sellers don't care about them. (Id.)

There are already measures on trafficking in human beings for purposes of organ removal in the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Warsaw, 2005, Council of Europe Treaty Series No. 197, Council of Europe website
(last visited Oct. 14, 2009) and the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo, Italy, 2000, U.N. Crime and Justice Information Network website,
(last visited Oct. 14, 2009)).