Compassion, not commerce, is key to combatting organ trafficking

December 6, 2018

Australia’s leading human rights organisation has welcomed a Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade report examining the global prevalence of human organ trafficking. The Compassion, Not Commerce: An Inquiry into Human Organ Trafficking and Organ Transplant Tourism Report makes twelve recommendations aimed at law reform to address Australian participation in the illicit trade and at strengthening international frameworks to combat organ trafficking and organ transplant tourism.

Madeleine Bridgett, Co-Chair of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) Business and Human Rights Subcommittee said, “ALHR welcomes the report’s important recommendations regarding amendments to Commonwealth criminal laws to make trafficking in human organs or soliciting a commercial organ transplant an offence. We particularly welcome the recommendation that such offences should have extraterritorial application and therefore capture the conduct of any Australian citizen, resident or body corporate whether occurring inside Australia or overseas.”

“In addition, the Report recommends that the Government meets international best practice standards by establishing: a comprehensive organ donation data collection repository, a multi-lingual public health education programme to address the legal, ethical and medical risks associated with participation in organ transplant tourism; and a mandatory reporting scheme whereby medical professionals have an obligation to report any knowledge or reasonable suspicion that a person under their care has received a commercial transplant or one sourced from a non-consenting donor in Australia or overseas.”

“Only one in three Australians are registered as donors and importantly the report recommends the Australian Government seeks to improve organ donation rates, including by investigating Opt-Out organ donation programs to determine whether they could be appropriate for the Australian health system.”

Ms Bridgett continued, “ALHR also welcomes the report’s recommendations that Australia engage internationally by signing and ratifying the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs and working with the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate organ trafficking in countries where it is alleged to occur on a large scale.”

“By acceding to this Convention, which is the only international treaty which makes trafficking in organs illegal, Australia would be sending a clear message to the international community that it is committed to criminalising organ trafficking, including the transportation, transfer, receipt, import and export of organs removed without the free, informed and specific consent of the donor.”

ALHR also notes the importance of the report’s recommendations that the Australian Government urgently work with State and Territory governments to ensure that any person or body corporate importing human tissue into Australia for commercial purposes produces verifiable documentation of the consent of the donor or their next-of-kin.

Ms Bridgett said, “The recent Real Bodies exhibition in Sydney, and all exhibitions of this type in Australia, evidence an alarming lacuna in our laws whereby the importation of human organs or human tissue is not illegal and there is no requirement for verifiable documentation of the identity and consent of the deceased or next of kin. Businesses should not be in a position to profit from the illegal harvesting of organs or tissues, and nor should they violate the deceased and their families’ rights to dignity and respect.”

“ALHR urges the Morrison Government to act swiftly to implement all twelve recommendations of the report in full, particularly in light of serious legal and human rights concerns about organ harvesting from executed prisoners of conscience in China.”

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.