Australia Explores Opt-Out Option to Counter Organ Trafficking

On December 3, 2018, Australia’s Parliament tabled a report titled “Compassion, not Commerce: An Inquiry into Human Organ Trafficking and Organ Transplant Tourism.” The report is result of an in-depth effort by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to understand Australia’s involvement in international organ trafficking and the ensuing ethical consequences. Ensuring ethical transplant practices appear so challenging that the Australian Parliament is considering a change from an opt-in organ donation system to an opt-out system as a means to boost organ donations and prevent Australians from traveling to countries with unethical organ procurement practices or buying organs on the black market.

The debate in the Australian Parliament has included more than proposing an opt-out system. Some Parliament members are also considering changing the law so that Australians who would go abroad and receive a transplant organ that was illegally procured would face prosecution upon their return to Australia. It has also become clear that an opt-out system will not sufficiently address criminal organ trafficking practices. More determined actions are needed to combat organ trafficking.

Organ trafficking and transplant tourism has expanded into new arenas. With the recent migration wave in the Middle East, the  exploitation of vulnerable refugees seeking “fast money” has increased. In China, the state-organized organ trafficking abuse is a cold genocide whose victims are primarily Falun Gong adherents and increasingly, Uyghurs subjected to forced organ harvesting. While the global transplant tourism market sees spikes in black-market organ trafficking that shift over the years occurring in India, Pakistan, Philippines, and the Middle East, China stands out as a constant and consistent haven for international transplant tourism. In a recent study, more than 63% of all transplant tourists documented in scientific papers had traveled to China.

Australia, like many other countries, faces shortages of organs suitable for transplantation. In 2017, only 510 deceased donors provided organs for transplantation in Australia. Only about one in three Australian citizens is registered in its organ donation program. In 2016, Prof. Wendy Rogers proposed steps to counter organ trafficking with an opt-out organ donation system for Australia. Proponents of the move to opt-out feel a sense of urgency due to China’s growing foreign transplant tourism and the opacity of its organ harvesting practices.