Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Last month a Saudi national was accused of marrying a Filipina wife so that he could get a kidney donation in the Philippines. A news item like this has lost the power to shock readers in the Philippines because by now almost everybody is familiar with the story of desperate foreigners arriving in the country in search of organ donors.

A foreigner can buy a kidney from a healthy but poor individual in a depressed community in the Philippines for as low as US$2,000. This figure is small but in a society where millions of families earn less than US$1 dollar a day, this amount can convince an unemployed individual to sell his or her organ.

In 2005 the Philippines was identified by the World Health Organization as the No. 5 hotspot in the world for organ trafficking. According to the registry of Philippine Renal Disease there were 531 foreign recipients of kidneys from non-related donors in 2007, as against 313 Filipino recipients, with 29 cadaveric donors as against over 1,000 living donors.

Last year kidney transplants in the country went down to 690, as reported by the Philippine Society of Nephrology. But almost 200 transplant beneficiaries were still foreigners – despite a ban on organ sales to foreigners imposed by the national government. Health authorities believe 50 percent of kidney transplants in the country may involve organ sales.

The Philippine Congress has been deliberating several legislative measures that seek to address the issue of the rising number of victims of organ trafficking, while sustaining efforts to help those in need of organ transplants.

Some of the proposed measures include the removal of the ban on senior citizens to become kidney donors. Doctors argue that the organs of persons above 60 years old may still be used by older patients. Another measure seeks to establish a national registry and reporting system of donors and recipients to remove the role of middlemen who make a business out of organ donations.

The Philippine College of Physicians and Philippine College of Surgeons are supportive of the proposal to include the concept of health promotion, disease prevention and organ or tissue donation in the basic education curriculum.

A bold but controversial measure is the “opt out” system, or presumed consent bill. The author of the bill explains how the bill addresses the commercialization of organ donation in the country: “Upon reaching the age of 18, each Filipino will be asked if he or she would refuse to be an organ donor and in the event that he or she would not refuse, he or she is then presumed to be a willing organ donor. In the event of an untimely death, the person’s relatives will be notified of his/her wish to be a donor.”

The lawmaker wants to maintain a national registry of persons who have refused to donate their organs. Those who don’t register their objection will automatically become a donor. This procedure is observed in several European countries like Austria and Spain. This radical proposal was conceived out of frustration with the “opt in” system that has been in place in the country for the past decade but has produced only 1 deceased donor with a donor card.

Regulators of kidney transplants should learn from the country’s Eye Bank Foundation, which claims to be the most successful eye bank in Asia with 90 percent of donations from medico-legal cases, and only 10 percent from voluntary donors.

Sharing one’s kidneys is not wrong since it helps save lives. A healthy individual has the right to donate his or her kidney for altruistic reasons. But organ donations become controversial if the poor are encouraged and forced to sell their kidneys for a hefty sum.

The government has to intervene and regulate organ transplants to protect the rights of the poor while balancing the needs of the sick who require urgent organ transplants.

The government should also clarify the objectives of its medical tourism program, since it could be abused by crooked doctors who want to promote organ selling to desperate foreigners in urban poor communities. The government has to act now if it wants to disprove the accusation that its economic strategy depends on the exporting of its skilled labor to other countries and the selling of organs of its poor citizens to rich foreigners.

Related articles:

Filipino kidneys for sale
Legalizing organ trade in Singapore

2 Responses to “Organ trafficking victimizes poor Filipinos”

  1. organ trafficking is terrible ! looking at above stories, I wonder whether that kind of stories also happened in Indonesia? I never heard that kind of story yet, but the possibilities is quite high. I just hope the authorities can do something to prevent this kind of practice

    sigit arinto

  2. Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?


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