On almost every corner in a Philippine town and many developing countries you will see a shop of salvation, economic salvation for the poor - the pawnshop. Pawning their last precious possession for a pittance is a sign of hard times, grinding poverty and even utter desperation for the wretched of the earth, the dwellers of the slums. When they have pawned everything and possess nothing and face another crises there is, no way out, no hope, no handout. That's when they are vulnerable to the ultimate exploitation - forced by hunger to sell their body organs. The trafficking of human organs is one of the fastest growing illicit trades in the Philippines. A recent study made by the University of the Philippines (UP) revealed that an estimated 3,000 people in one slum area of Metro Manila alone sold their kidney for P70,000 to P120,000 ($1,440 to $2,469). One poor man was cheated and was paid only a fraction of what was promised and went to the police. His complaint led to the arrest last December 2006 of a middleman that was arranging to buy the organs of the poor. Some major hospitals, the National Kidney Institute and doctors have agreed to co-operate in an investigation conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the Secretary of Health Waldo Duque to stop the illegal trade after The Manila Times ran a banner story on the scandal a few weeks ago. This came shortly after an Undersecretary of Health caused an avalanche of condemnation when he said that health tourism was the industry of the future and that foreigners ought to pay at least US$3000 to $5000 for a kidney. Doctor Gene Alzona Nisperos Secretary General of the Philippine organization Health Alliance for Democracy was quoted as saying that the statement was "morally wrong and insensitive. Human organ trafficking is illegal in the Philippines. The anti-trafficking of persons act R.A. 9208 makes it crime to arrange the sale or removal of a person's organ by abduction, deceit, fraud or force of any kind. This aspect of the law underlines the fears and allegations that children are being abducted and either trafficked into the sex industry as slaves or are being harvested for their body organs. Children's rights advocates claim that foreign led gangs are behind the trafficking supplying children to the sex and health tourists flocking to the Philippines. However the voluntary donation of an organ is legal and is considered an act of sacrifice. The medical profession has set up a fledgling Philippine Organ Donation Programme that encourages the selfless giving of organs to patients in danger of death. Needy Filipinos, not foreigners ought to be the priority for available donated organs. The poor cannot afford the costly operation anyway. The availability and willingness of the poor to sell their organs is indicative of the depth of poverty. They sell them because they have nothing else to sell to survive. Many are so weak and malnourished can die within months of the removal unless they get continual medical care which devours any payment they get for the kidney. Critics say it is insidious that the rich, having 70% of the wealth of the nation now go so far as to harvest the bodies of poor to prolong their own pampered lives. This is even more objectionable when their diseases are brought on at times by sumptuous over eating or luxurious lifestyles. The death penalty is widely condemned in China and even more so the selling of body organs of executed criminals. Although authorities deny it critics say prisoners are even pre-screened and their blood type matched with a recipient of their organs. Their families get part of the payment. Their executions are scheduled to coincide with the operation of the patient. The trafficking of human organs no matter where it happens must stop. One thing is certain, the voluntary donation of organs must be allowed and encouraged yet with absolute control and screening. Hospitals and doctors must be held responsible and a strict monitoring has to be in place. The rights and dignity of donor and recipient must be safeguarded at all costs. For more information see: www.preda.org
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