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Professor researches black market for organs, shares information

March 13, 2012
Photo by Photo Courtesy of Monir Monivuzzaman | The State News

Monir Moniruzzaman spent a year overseas searching for people who had sold their kidneys on the black market and what he found left him shocked.

In his research on the organ market in Bangladesh, which was recently published by the Medical Anthropology Quarterly, the assistant professor of anthropology and faculty member of the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences said organ brokers and the media take advantage of the people in desperate need of money and manipulate them into selling their organs to local or overseas residents.

But many poor people’s lives are destroyed once they sell their kidneys, and they often are paid far less than promised.

Moniruzzaman has been working on this research for about 10 years and spent about a year in Bangladesh interviewing victims of the black market for organs, he said.

“These people are having serious psychological problems, like depression,” Moniruzzaman said of the poor’s exploitation from organ donations. “In one case I found, (a donor) wanted to commit suicide because of socialistic humiliation.”

Moniruzzaman said he hopes his research will help students see the effects of poverty firsthand.

Natalie Weiss, law student and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medicine and Law at MSU, said although countries have standards of what is legal and moral in relation to organ trafficking, she feels the issue is often overlooked by policy makers.

“When you get into other countries, the U.S. can say things at (United Nations) meetings and say things to draft ideas,” she said. “But the U.S. doesn’t have a say, unfortunately, as to what other nations can do.”

Sefali Patel, microbiology senior and president of the Undergraduate Bioethics Society, said a solution that might minimize the demand for organs is to do more research to prevent diseases that destroy organs.

She said she believes organ trafficking is common because of the world economy. Third World countries do not have as many laws as the U.S. to protect citizens from such activities, and the commonality of it in poorer countries is a result of the needs of the population.

“If there is a high demand of an organ or technically a product, there is always going to be someone there to provide it legally or illegally,” Patel said.

Still, Moniruzzaman hopes the government will take note of his research and take action. In January, he presented a plan to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The biggest point in that recommendation, I feel, is that there is a way to resolve this problem: increased (cadaver) organ donation,” he said. “There is a bigger supply of organs, and the black market would be reduced in that way.”

Moniruzzaman said although it is great that research and technology regarding transplants has been supported, the advances have resulted in exploitation of the poor in Bangladesh, which now needs to be acknowledged by the public.

“We taught this new medical technology of saving lives, and on another side, we are saving lives by exploiting the poor,” he said.

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