New International Convention Adopted to Make Organ Trafficking a Criminal Offence

The Council of Europe has recently adopted a new international convention to make trafficking of human organs for transplant a criminal offence. The convention will be open for signatures by state members and non-state members of the Council of Europe.

Spain will host the ceremony for the opening of signatures at the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015.

In its official fact sheet, the Council explains the background of adopting this new convention: “The shortage of organs, the disparity accentuated by the economic crisis, the vast differences between health systems and the greed of unscrupulous traffickers have in recent years led to an increase in transplant tourism and human organ trafficking.”

The Council calls human organ trafficking a violation of “human dignity and the right to life” and “a serious threat to public health.”

While the convention leaves it open for parties to decide on the issue of prosecuting donors willingly participating in organ trade, the surgeon who carries out the removal or implantation will always be covered by the criminalization obligation.

The new convention “aims to harmonise the penal system in Europe to prosecute more effectively individuals and criminal organisations responsible for trafficking,” as stated in the official fact sheet.

Different countries have adopted various versions of their own criminal laws against organ trafficking.

Israel, an associated state of the European Union, established a criminal law in 2008, prohibiting its citizens from obtaining illegal organ transplants overseas. The related expenses of such illegal operations will not be covered by insurance companies.

Dr. Jacob Lavee, an Israeli doctor from the largest hospital in the Middle East, Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Madical Hashomer, was a major influence in getting the law passed. He started noticing the problem after his patients obtained heart transplants in China after finding matching organs in a matter of two weeks. Investigating the situation further, he came to the conclusion of forced organ harvesting, independent of the allegations brought forth by Falun Gong practitioners.

Spain passed a similar law in 2010, subjecting offenders to 3 to 12 years in prison.

Australia amended its 1995 criminal law in March 2013 to include organ trafficking as a criminal offense.

The European Union passed a resolution last December, condemning and calling for the end of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China, a large majority of whom are Falun Gong practitioners.

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