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BMJ. 2007 March 31; 334(7595): 656.
PMCID: PMC1839177

UN calls for tougher rules to prevent sale of children's organs

Juan Miguel Petit, a human rights lawyer and the United Nations' independent expert on the exploitation of children, has called for the strengthening of global rules against transplant tourism in addition to safeguards to avoid the donation and selling of organs by minors.

Reported cases of sale and trafficking of organs in which a minor was involved have heightened fears that transplant tourism can involve children as well as adults.

Mr Petit said that countries need to take “very careful measures” to avoid the donation of organs by minors, which can be “not donations but the desperate selling by families of an organ of a child so that they can get the money to survive.”

He stressed that many countries do not have transplant agencies and that many countries accept the selling of organs.

“Different levels of legislation for the removal of organs has created loopholes, black holes, in which some countries appear as places where people can donate their organs to persons needing organs” with little or no regulation, Mr Petit told reporters.

He indicated that it was difficult to define precisely which are the more risky countries but added that the situation was more prevalent in some parts of Asia, where there is little regulation of donation and considerable medical expertise.

Luc Noel, the World Health Organization's coordinator of clinical procedures, said that loose regulations could be found in countries in each of the organisation's six regions. Since 1991 WHO had followed the principle that minors were not a suitable source of material for transplantation and that donation by a minor was prohibited, except in rare exceptions defined by law, he added.

Earlier, in a report to a session of the UN Human Rights Council, which has 47 member nations, Mr Petit urged states to consider adopting legislation and standards to clearly regulate transplantation of organs and tissues.

“They should develop institutions to document and monitor all transplants taking place,” he said. The aim should be to avoid the development of “transplant tourism,” whereby clinics are set up to take advantage of disparities between the situation of the donor and the receiver, with significant risks for both people involved in the transplant.

The way to avoid this, Mr Petit said, was to strengthen the coordination of international agreements between national transplant agencies in line with norms developed by WHO and the World Medical Association.

Dr Noel said it was important to make sure that the legal framework and the reality of transplantations ensure “actual benefits to the recipient, and protect the wellbeing of the donor.”

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