Bill S-240 – Organ Trafficking
December 10, 2018
Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill S-240, a Senate bill that was brought forward to the House by the Conservative member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. I know the member is passionate about this issue and has worked hard to bring this legislation to this point, so I thank him.
The RCMP has stated the obvious. It says that there are far more people in the world in need of a new organ than there are organs available. As in any market where a dollar can be made because demand far outweighs supply, people can turn to the black market to find what they need. When a person’s life is on the line, the will to survive may override morals.
As members in the House may know, I have been a passionate advocate for finding improvements to Canada’s organ and tissue donation systems. While 90% of Canadians support organ donation, just 20% are registered as organ donors. There are 4,500 Canadians desperate for a life-saving transplant, and 250 die each year before that life-saving transplant becomes available.
If we can increase the supply of organs, we can reduce or eliminate the desperation that leads people to take such drastic measures to save their own lives.
The problem of organ trafficking is not just a Canadian problem. The World Health Organization says that 10% of all organ transplants involved a trafficked organ. This is about 10,000 a year, every year.
The country of Iran stands alone in the world as the only nation with a legal organ trade. However, the trade is closely monitored and it has eliminated the wait-list for kidneys. However, I do not believe the end justifies the means either.
On a positive note, it has spurred the rate of donations from deceased donors in Iran. It is important to note that deceased donors are not paid.
Organ trafficking is a horrible phenomenon that can be crudely reduced to this: Rich nations take advantage of poverty in poor nations to satisfy their need for organs. A Harvard study showed that the main purchasing nations were the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Japan and, yes, Canada. We target nations in South America, Asia and Africa. In Indian alone, it is estimated that 2,000 kidneys are sold each year.
This trade is big business. Profits are estimated to be between $600 million U.S. and $1.2 billion U.S. per year.
Organ trafficking is done through what is generally known as “transplant tourism”. Those in need of a transplant travel to one of these poorer nations to undergo their transplant under the auspices of a vacation. There are even websites that offer all-inclusive transplant packages for these so-called tourists. A kidney transplant, for example, will mean a transplant vacation costing anywhere from $70,000 U.S. to $160,000 U.S. Canada does not have a law that prevents this.
While kidneys are the most commonly traded organ, it does not stop there. Other common transplants involve hearts, livers, lungs, pancreases and corneas. Human tissue is also illegally traded.
The trade involves three basic groups, according to the United Nations’ global initiative to fight human trafficking: traffickers, who force or deceive victims into giving up an organ; victims who have their financial desperation used against them to give up their organs; and victims who are deceived into a medical procedure during which they have an organ removed without their prior knowledge.
Like any other illegal trade supported by organized crime, there are many layers of offenders. There are the recruiters, both for donors and recipients; the vulnerable people, who are the victims; the immoral medical people and facilities; the buyers; the facilitators; and more.
What do we do to address this problem? Of course, if we had enough donors in Canada, people would not be desperately mortgaging their homes or spending their retirement savings to get that life-saving transplant.
I do not blame people who are facing death for taking whatever steps they can to save themselves. They are just as much a guilty party in this trade as they are a victim of the trade. However, we need to take a stand on this issue if we are to stop it.
Before I go any further, it is important to clarify this would not prevent a truly informed and consenting person from donating an organ to someone in need. We are talking about unethically obtained organs.
Bill S-240 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to create new offences in relation to trafficking in human organs. It would also amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to provide that a permanent resident or foreign national would be inadmissible to Canada if the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship were of the opinion that he or she had engaged in any activities relating to trafficking in human organs.
We face an interesting problem in the world of illegally obtained organs. Unlike other contraband items, customs officers cannot just seize an organ at the border. How can we tell if that tourist coming back to Canada has the same heart he or she left with weeks earlier? It would be a very difficult crime to detect. In many ways, the only way to detect this activity would be when those Canadians would go to their doctor, who suddenly would notice they had surgical scars and signs of a new organ.
Section 240 of the bill would require health professionals to notify a designated authority of such activity for investigation. Anyone found guilty of contravening these new prohibitions would be subject to up to 14 years in prison. I have concerns about the kind of relationship this would set-up between doctors and patients, but there really is no other way to do this.
Where does that leave us today? There is a saying that I think is very appropriate here, “When all is said and done, there is often a lot said and little done.” There have been four bills before Parliament in the past 10 years on organ trafficking, but yet we stand here today and continue to talk. It is time we get something done instead. Until we take aggressive steps to stop organ trafficking, the practice will continue to victimize thousands more every year.
Let us get the legislation enacted before the next election. If we do not, the whole process would have to start all over again. What a waste of time and money that would be. Thousands more could be victimized in the process.
At the same time, let us pass legislation like Bill C-316, my bill, which would help eliminate the demand for organ trafficking. Let us also focus more effort on acting on the recommendations of the health committee to improve our domestic supply of organs and tissues. Let us better promote the registration of organ and tissue donors, so our supply will exceed our demand. Honestly, imagine a day when people come to Canada to get a life-saving transplant because we have too many available organs. Would that not be an amazing goal?
Again, I applaud the Conservative member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan for putting the legislative proposal forward in the House. I look forward to voting in support of it.