“Kidney for Sale” Yes, People are There

Majalla Goes Deep into Lebanese Organ Trafficking
One of the conditions that protect the endowment and transplant program from living beings is undergoing a comprehensive medical evaluation for both the recipient and the donor. (Unsplash)
Advertising campaign for organ donation (Organ Donation Lebanon)

Lebanon…. The country that is identified with corruption and crisis today which are,unfortunately, facts of which almost the whole world is aware. Hence, we will not keep recounting the tragedy that the Lebanese are going through, not because we underestimate their circumstances, but things are already clear to everyone. The recent crises have exhausted their strengths and scattered their hopes and ambitions, and the collapse has affected their food, health and livelihood security under a worn-out system... Well, there is no room for prolongation here, nor for speculation, not even a need for any research. The Lebanese are floundering in a crisis that ranks first in the world. We think that this sentence is sufficient to describe the situation.

What makes us stand in a shock today is thewidespread news about a new phenomenon that“some Lebanese are offering to sell their organs for thousands of dollars” due to the financial collapse. News is circulating about "organ trafficking that is being conducted in Lebanon.” This draws our attention to look for the truth: Do the Lebanese really sell their kidneys in their country and what is the method that they follow? What about the role of the security services and associations that are concerned with organ donation? Is it possible for these people to stand by and watch? This report takes you on a fact-checking journey about what is really happening in Lebanon, the country that is being accused of the most harmful human shame ever…. So, what is really going on? 

Publicity about Lebanese Organ Trafficking 

Yes, we saw people offering to sell their kidneys on the roads, we really saw it years even before the crisis. Today, during our fact-check journey, we searched for these people, and found some in “one piece.” Now that is good news. We asked them what changed their minds? They responded with silence. Perhaps it is the silence of disappointment, the feeling of humiliation and weakness, or the fear of punishment, or the blatant silence that nothing is more valuable than our health, not even our children.... How hard it is to consider selling your organs to feed your family. This shouldn’t be happening in any society. No one deserves this, ever.  At the end, they told us, they did not sell their kidneys nor any other organ. We felt relieved. What matters is that they are fine. 

On the other side of the world, the virtual one, and while surfing the net, we found news on several websites about Lebanese people wanting to sell their kidneys... We tracked down the sources of this news, reached out to some journalists, and asked them to provide us with a way to contact Lebanese citizens who announced that they wanted to sell their kidneys, according to what they have reported. The answer was "they have left Lebanon" or "we don't know anything about them" or "we can't give further information.”

Continuing our journey in search of the truth about what some media have described as the phenomenon of organ trafficking, we found an advertizement on a Facebook page dedicated to selling organs. Just a moment, the page is not Lebanese, and the users are not Lebanese either. The page includes advertizements for citizens offering their kidneys for sale. Then we continued our search for Lebanese pages, but we could not find any.

Well, this search was not enough to satisfy our hunger for truth... We moved to some human associations, and the Human Rights Association, in addition to humanitarian campaigns concerned with human rights and human trafficking insofar as there is no special association dedicated to following up on organ trafficking in Lebanon. The answer was: "No, we do not know anything about organ trafficking in Lebanon, we haven’t received any news about it, and we do not receive calls about this matter."

We even consulted with the Lebanese internal security forces, who are responsible for preventing crimes of human trafficking. We asked them about statistics regarding Lebanese people selling their kidneys, and the answer was: “There are no statistics, and there is no ‘organ trafficking’ in Lebanon.” The Internal Security Forces (ISF) continued in an interview with Majalla saying: "There are relevant cases that violate the law, but these are being controlled.” The ISF referred here to a human trafficking operation that took place last September and got exposed. The criminals in this case were human traffickers, and the victim was a little kid whose Syrian father was selling him to Lebanese people. The criminals are now being jailed, and the child is being referred to one of the associations concerned with the care of minor children. However, ISF confirmed that "the heresy of selling organs is not true and does not happen in Lebanon."

Security authorities asked citizens through Majalla to report the pages that promote the sale of organs through social media “if they exist,”or to report any person offering his kidneys for sale, through a website or their pages on social media in a private chat. 

Organ Donation Lebanon: No Organ Trafficking in Lebanon

As of this writing, no organ trafficking has been documented in Lebanon due to the economic collapse this year, and the Human Rights Association confirmed that it has no information about organ trafficking taking place in Lebanonand has not received any news or contacts in this regard. Official security agencies also denied the existence of any organ trafficking.

On the other hand, a foreign news website published a report about Lebanese being motivated to sell their kidneys. This news was copied by more than one Lebanese website. 

In this context, Farida Younan, the coordinator of Organ Donation Lebanon, pointed out in an interview with Majalla that she does not have any clue about organ trade in Lebanon, thus confirming, "there has been no organ trafficking in Lebanon since 2014.” She stressed that the spread of such reports contributes to the marginalization of a humanitarian issue such as organ donation, as "when the media publishes such misleading news seeking only notoriety, it doesn’t take into account the harm that will be caused to patients waiting for this treatment." 

Younan said that "Lebanese law strictly forbids and punishes organ trafficking. The Ministry of Public Health and the National Authority have set conditions and controls for living donations to protect the living donor and prevent any illegal donation process. She added that the cases that some media outlets reported are the same as those used by a Swiss colleague from El Pais, who confirmed in his report that the sales took place outside Lebanon, or that “advertizers for the people willing to sell their organs are in the process of communicating with other countries outside Lebanon.” The Swiss journalist emphasized, "This matter does not concern us and is not our responsibility."

When asked whether Organ Donation Lebanon receives calls from Lebanese who want to sell their kidneys, Youkan said: "Often some peoplecontact us for this purpose, and some of them place ads on social media, but this does not mean that they can reach their goal, because we explain to them clearly and firmly that Lebanese law forbids the sale of organs, and everyone is obligated to follow the law."

Younan called for activating and supporting organ donation programs, and thus sent a message through Majalla on how to donate.  Younan indicated that the 2012 Medical Ethics Law No. 240, Article 30 thereof, "has appointed the Organ Donation Lebanon (NOD-LB) as the exclusive official organization authorized to monitor all organ and tissue donations, and transplant operations in all Lebanese territories and to establish the medical, legal and ethical conditions and controls for the living and deceased donation programs. It is also responsible for training health workers and setting up a community education program on post-mortem donation.  She also explained the process of donation in each of the circumstances of whether the donors are dead or alive.

Advertising campaign for organ donation (Organ Donation Lebanon).

Donation by alive people: 

Lebanese law allows donation from relatives up to the fourth degree, but anyone who exceeds this degree becomes a non-relative donor.

The conditions that protect the endowment and transplant program from living beings, are as follows: 

- A comprehensive medical evaluation for both the recipient and the donor.

- A psychological evaluation confirming that the patient and the donor do not suffer from any mental or psychological disorder that prevents donating, and that they have fully comprehended the risks and complications that may result from the process of donating and transplanting.  It must also be determined thatthe donation takes place without any psychological or financial pressure, and that each party as well as the attending physician and surgeon have signed the informed consent form.

- Securing all the original identification papers, provided that their dates do not exceed 3 months, to prove the relationship and that they are of the same nationality. That is, from Lebanese to Lebanese, as well as for other nationalities, for example, from Iraqi to Iraqi.

- The entire medical file of the patient and the donor are studied by the Ethics Committee, after interviewing both the recipient patient and the donor individually, to ensure that there is no moral impediment or moral pressure on the donation.

- The National Authority checks the file and makes sure that it meets the legal conditions for completing the transplant. It sends a letter to the Minister of Public Health, who issues a decision approving or not approving the transplant operation, regardless of the guarantees by the recipient and the donor, and even if the operation is at the expense of the private patient or if the patient is not Lebanese.

Donation after death: The donor must express his\her desire for life and inform his family about it.

After their death, it is the responsibility of the National Authority to obtain the written consent of the family, i.e., the signature of a direct relative of first-degree kinship to be witnessed by a family member, whether or not a donation card is found. In all cases, Lebanese law gives the family the right to accept the gift or oppose it.

Regarding the number of citizens who expressed their desire to donate their organs after death, Younan revealed that the number exceeded 33,000 citizens and "we aspire to reach a larger number, equivalent to half of the Lebanese people."

On the occasion of International Organ Donation Day, which falls on October 17th, the coordinator at NOD called on media institutions to take action and cooperate with all bodies similar to the National Commission “to shed light on revitalizing the organ donation programs for the deceased in the region, as well as the needs of the waiting patients and keeping this humanitarian issue separate from the political maze and sensationalist headlines, because organ donation is above all political, sectarian, racial and geographical considerations. She said: “The media has a great role, as it is able from its professional position to spread the culture of gifting after death in a scientific and objective way, and the role of the clergy is also very important in spreading this culture through places of worship.” 

Organ trafficking and legal protocols 

To know more about legal protocols regardingorgan trafficking, the punishment and ways to deal with it, Majalla conducted an interview with appellate attorney, university professor and lecturer Dr. Bassam El Muhtar, who pointed out that the issue of organ trade is of great importance in light of the tremendous medical progress and the facility of communication and transportation.  He considered the crime of human organ trafficking among the most serious organized crimes that transcend state bordersand threaten global public order, and require the participation of several perpetrators: an intermediary, a seller and a buyer. This, he believes that illegal organ trade requires coordination and action at an international level to eliminate it, or to limit its spread to a minimum.

Appellate attorney, university professor and lecturer Dr. Bassam El Muhtar.

In the scope of applicable legal protocols, El Muhtar pointed out that the “Palermo Convention 2000” defined the protocol’s purpose to “prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.” The Convention adopted national positive laws with provisions such as the crime of trafficking in persons, including trafficking in organs, and classified them as attracting or transferring, receiving, detaining or providing shelter for a person, with the aim of exploiting or facilitating his exploitation by others, by threatening or using force, kidnapping, deception, abuse of power or abuse of a position of vulnerability, or by giving or receiving sums of money or benefits. It is well known that the term “exploitation” includes forcing the victim to commit acts punishable by law, especially byremoving organs or tissues from the victim's body, and so organ trafficking also falls within this definition, in addition to the sale of blood units that is criminalized as it consists of interconnected cells.

These texts, in the opinion of El-Muhtar, givethe judge in charge of the case a very wide authority to include any act or to include any process from which an organ trafficking process or one of its predicate crimes can be subsumedunder the term “exploitation,” which of course is reflected in the enhancement of the penalty and the adoption of the procedures in force in this regard.

Regarding the penalty, the appellate attorney pointed out that there are many problems that fall under this heading. “All countries that have either signed or not signed the Palermo 2000 Protocol criminalize organ trafficking with severe criminal penalties, especially if it results in permanent disability or the death of the person, and take judicial, security and social measures to combat this phenomenon, and to rehabilitate the victims, even if only to a minimal extent. Organ trafficking constitutes a violation of human rights to the integrity of the body, organs and life, and is prohibited by the heavenly laws that depend on religion as a primary source of legislation, such as some Islamic countries that oppose any act that degrades human dignity or degrades his humanity, as God created man in the best manner and preferred him over all other creatures." 

He added that the real problem arises when adults offer to sell their organs in exchange for a material allowance, or promote this trade, as well as when advertizing or promotional sites for these acts enter into this framework. Of course, this problem does not arise at all for children, and from the perspective of the Palermo 2000 Protocol, a child is every person who has not reached eighteen years of age, and therefore criminalizes with the most severe penalties any dealings with a child’s organs regardless of any justification, especially since this protocol is dedicated to the protection of children and women.

To address organ trafficking, El Muhtar believes that international or national legislation is not sufficient in this regard: "International human rights conventions focused on broad statements of human rights and left the national legislation for each country to manage its legal affairs according to its concepts, conditions and public order. The same applies to international covenants." He continues, "As for the Palermo 2000 Protocol, it paid special attention to children, and extended the timeframe of childhood to eighteen years...” El-Muhtar asks: "What about adults who have completed eighteen years of age and who suffer from poverty or difficult circumstances, whose human nature has debilitated them and who have accepted humiliation, don’t they also deserve protection?” This requires, he assured, an enactment of international and national legislation to control this dangerous phenomenon on humanity. He also focused on strengthening international cooperation between the security, judicial and social agencies to combat this phenomenon and help and rehabilitate the victims.

NO, organ trafficking is not a lifestyle in Lebanon, nor does the country sells organs. Yes, Lebanon’s lung is suffocating from the lack of oxygen, Lebanon’s heart is aching, Lebanon’s mind is stuck in a chaos of thinking. Yes, the pocket of the Lebanese is torn, and they are tired.... But the truth is that spreading misleading news to portray the situation does more harm than good. We quoted above what was confirmed by official bodies, with follow-up steps that contradicted many news stories that were indiscriminately spread.  

However, with all the corruption in the country, this makes “Lebanon” an easy target to rumors.

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