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Thirty Swedes bought kidneys abroad: study

Thirty Swedes bought kidneys abroad: study

Published: 25 Mar 2011 12:06 GMT+01:00
Updated: 25 Mar 2011 12:06 GMT+01:00

Around 30 Swedish kidney patients have travelled abroad since the 1980s to have transplants using organs bought from impoverished people in foreign countries, according to an unpublished study from Karolinska University Hospital.

Annika Tibell, head of the hospital’s Department of Transplantation Surgery, has kept statistics on the number of people returning to Sweden for further treatment after having transplant surgery outside the country.

”I’ve tried to keep an inventory and we have around 30 people who have received transplants abroad, in most cases with purchased organs,” Tibell told Sveriges Radio.

One of the Swedes who bought an organ told the station he had tired of waiting in line for an operation and had instead travelled to Pakistan to buy a kidney.

Organ trade is prohibited under Swedish law.

Social affairs minister Göran Hägglund said he was deeply concerned by the development, which he described as unethical.

“It’s a manifestation of a sort of organ colonialism by which people in the wealthy part of the world exploit the poorest people in the world in a way that is completely unacceptable,” he said.

Hägglund said the Swedish system for donating organs worked quite well, but stressed that there was also plenty of scope for improvement.

“There are a lot of people who say they are prepared to donate their organs - 80 percent according to some studies - but there are very few who go from words to action,” said Hägglund, the leader of the Christian Democrat party.

“It’s possible that the gloomy fact we’re now discussing this will result in more people applying and really registering their willingness.”

Charlotte Möller, an expert in organ donor issues at the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), said the agency agreed with Tibell’s assessment of the extent of the problem but was not planning to take any immediate action.

“This is of course very unfortunate and is not something we like or support,” said Möller.

“We have to keep trying to ensure that the Swedish healthcare system can carry out the necessary donations. But we currently have a case where demand is greater than supply.”

Håkan Hedman, chairman of the Swedish Kidney Foundation (Njurförbundet), said nobody in Sweden should take the desperate step of buying a kidney when patients can lead a satisfactory life with the aid of dialysis.

“We strongly distance ourselves from this activity and plead with all kidney patients to stop and think,” said Hedman. “People get hurt from this kind of trafficking.”

Most patients find a donor within three years, often sooner if a friend or family member agrees to be a live donor. Between 30 and 40 percent of patients receive a kidney from a live donor.

“But a lack of organs is of course a serious problem and there’s a lot left to do in this area, both within the healthcare system and in terms of informing the general public,” said Hedman.

A kidney operation using a purchase kidney can cost up to half a million kronor ($80,000), Sveriges Radio reports. Most of the money goes to the surgeon, with the seller generally receiving between $800 and $4,000.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:08 March 25, 2011 by karex
This is not right, I agree. But the Swedish Health System must take responsibility for driving some patients to this. Long waiting times aside, there are other practices in the Swedish health system that are conveniently not mentioned here.

Let me ask anyone: if a doctor came to you and informed you that you are condemned to death because you are past a certain age to qualify for an organ transplant how would you feel?

1. Does a doctor, ANY doctor, have the right to play God with anyone's life? Or to put it another way, who died and named this particular person God?

2. After spending a lifetime paying incredibly high taxes how can anyone justify to a contributor (not to mention human being) that there is a "grace period" for benefiting from their contributions - not mentioned in any fine print - and lo and behold, the grace period has expired!

The mother of a friend of mine is in this position. She was told that she does not qualify for a kidney transplant because she is past a certain age and a kidney would be "wasted" on her instead of being used on a more "deserving" younger person.

This is utterly disgraceful, not to mention beastly behaviour.
16:17 March 25, 2011 by joserayo
Karex,

Then the kidney should go to the person who has payed more taxes. Or even better, the tax money should be used to pay for purchasing more kidneys from poor countries.

The sad fact is that the doctors have to make a choice, and in the case you are explaining I think that the decision is clear.
16:44 March 25, 2011 by karex
I apologize for my raving, but this particular issue hit home on a personal level.

joserayo, I'm afraid that I was not clear enough in my above outburst, probably because it WAS an outburst. I will try again.

I am aware that the issue is quite complex and full of difficulties. The greatest of which is probably a larger number of people in need than there are donors. Notwithstanding, I hold the belief that life is precious - ALL life. I cannot see how a person, institution or government can possibly justify having power of life or death over an individual. I don't pretend to present magical solutions to the problem at hand. I would just very much like for everyone to be given an equal right to live, and not be categorized as more or less deserving because of age, amount of taxes paid or any other reason.

Wold the same doctor have made the same decision if it were his own mother at stake? I seriously doubt it.
16:58 March 25, 2011 by voiceofreason
A younger donor has a better choice of surviving an organ transplant than an older one, therefore age could be a priority but not a barrier.

It is unethical to buy someone's organ even if it has a price but if this were to happen, the donot should get a larger share of the cost of the operation, the doctors competence taken into consideration.
17:34 March 25, 2011 by mojofat
This article can't be true. I've been assured by several media reports that Sweden's health care system is second to none.
19:38 March 25, 2011 by Katorok
What the hell is up with these comments? This isn't about a lack of surgeons or lack of facilities to provide care.

THIS IS ABOUT LACK OF ORGANS, organs do not come out of a vacuum, they come from dead people who died from something like a car crash but their organs are still in in tact (legitimate organs at least). Organs do not last very long after death, so they can't bank them for long periods of time either. To get organs for transplants PEOPLE HAVE TO DIE, OR A DONOR HAS TO GIVE UP THEIR OWN WILLINGLY.

This has NOTHING to do with money, Swedish hospitals are not going to buy organs from poor people in other countries BECAUSE THAT'S HORRIDLY IMMORAL, this would lead to gangs killing people to harvest organs to sell them (which they already do on the black market to an extent). The reason children and younger people get first priority for legitimate organs is because they get more use out of them, who should get the organ? a 10 yr old child who can live 30 yrs more, or a 60yr old person who can like 5-10yrs more?

It has nothing to do with money.

Buying organs is horridly illegal in nearly every country. Although a black market exists for the wealthy/desperate.

This is the case in every nation, you have to ration organs. Is it that hard of a concept to understand?
22:07 March 25, 2011 by texaslass
"It has nothing to do with money."

Giving an organ to a younger person has EVERYTHING to do with money.

The Swedish state is not stupid, they know that the younger patient will PAY MORE taxes in the future than the older patient. The older patient is just a burden on the tax system. So in the end, the healthcare system is in effect doing the same unethical thing that these patients buying organs are doing...it is ALWAYS about the money!
10:41 March 26, 2011 by johnny1939
What is so wrong w/ selling a kidney? Maybe we should allow it so more people could be saved. After all, the person donating a kidney takes a risk, not to speak of pain. I am not impoverished but not rich either and I would sell one of my kidneys so I could do certain things that I cannot afford now. I can of course only speak for myself in this matter.
15:45 March 26, 2011 by DrMoskowitz
This seems a good time to remind readers that dialysis has been mostly obsolete for over 8 years. Why you haven't heard has to do with the greed of the healthcare system, including non-profit organizations like the National Kidney Foundation and the American Diabetes Association; details are at http://www.genomed.com/images/guyot_dec09nl.pdf. Anybody with diabetes or high blood pressure should contact www.genomed.com right away; our treatment only prevents kidney failure if begun early in the game.
09:45 March 27, 2011 by Marc the Texan
The problem is that trade in organs is treated as a taboo when it should be regulated. Our socialist overlords have decided it's unethical even though it benefits both sides of the trade. No one is going to prevent people selling kidneys in third world countries. The process should be made transparent and the seller should be paid a large sum and made safer if the so-called authorities accepted the realities and benefits of the practice. Selling an organ for a sum similar to the amount of the other costs of the transplant would be life-changing for the seller and their family in many third world countries. Why not allow sellers to change their lives for the better for the price of a kidney? For many impoverished people, selling an organ can mean the difference between living a comfortable life and sending their children to school rather than remaining mired in poverty and misery for the rest of their life. Let the market operate. All the socialist do-gooders think they have a monopoly on good judgment, yet they don't. What right do the imperious socialist bureaucrats in one country have to tell a dirt poor Bangladeshi that he can't improve his lot by trading a kidney for more money than he could earn in his lifetime? The arrogance of these bureaucrats imposing their 'ethics' on other people who are making decisions that affect no third parties.
11:33 March 28, 2011 by johnny1939
Marc the Texan Yes, yes you put it down so well and I am w/ you 100%. Why not?? One more idea, when a person dies, the relatives should at least get the funeral paid for if they let their loved ones organs get harvested!! The price of funerals are astounding these days.
13:27 March 28, 2011 by LeoKinmann
I heard in Sweden there is a law stating that, even if the dead agreed to donate his/her organs, the relatives have the power to overrule the will. If it is true then I can see why there are very few organ donors around. Hägglund should be the one to feel ashamed. Swedish medical system sux, plain and simple.
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