Canadians desperate for transplants turn to illegal organ trade
Published Saturday, June 1, 2013 9:54PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, June 1, 2013 11:27PM EDT
Canadians desperate for organ transplants are travelling overseas for black market organs, but doctors back home warn that they could be putting their lives at risk.
Driven by a shortage in Canada of living organs, particularly kidneys, patients are turning to the illegal organ trade in countries like India, Pakistan and the Phillipines.
Matin Khan is one of them. Khan endured years of dialysis as she waited for a kidney transplant -- and then paid $10,000 to buy a kidney in Pakistan.
But shortly after returning to Canada, the kidney began to fail, and she became ill.
“I had pneumonia and a fever,” she said. “And I went to the hospital and they found out that the kidney was not functioning anymore.”
Khan is one of a growing number of people worldwide who are taking matters into their own hands. According to the United Nations, approximately 10,000 illegal kidney transplants are being performed worldwide each year.
But Dr. Jeff Zaltzman, a kidney specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, says patients like Khan are putting themselves at risk.
People who undergo an overseas transplant are often already sick by the time they sent back home, he said.
“They come right to the emergency room requiring hospitalization,” Zaltzman told CTV News. “This has happened on more than one occasion.”
Despite her close call, Khan went back to Pakistan to buy a second kidney. This time, it is functioning well.
Others have not been as fortunate. Some overseas transplant recipients have died, Zaltzman said.
“My greatest fear is that more harm is maybe being done in a number of patients than potentially good,” he said.
The decision to turn to the overseas black market is driven by a critical shortage of organs for transplant, poverty and by so-called black market brokers who seek profit.
A Canadian film has documented how impoverished people in the Phillippines are selling their kidneys for $1,500, sometimes less.
Ric Esther Bienstock, director of “Tales From the Organ Trade,” says she was witnessed firsthand the dangers of such transactions.
“The more you try and crack down, the further underground the black market goes,” she said. “And what is happening is operations are becoming more dangerous for both the recipients and for the people who are selling their kidneys.”
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip