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Faculty voice: Advocating for human bodies

Dec. 8, 2020
Source: MSU (Michigan State University) Today

Monir Moniruzzaman
Source: MSU (Michigan State University) Today
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Monir Moniruzzaman is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Social Science. His research examines human organ trafficking within the black market, and how to combat this human rights violation. This story is repurposed from the College of Social Science website It was a lifelong goal of mine to become an anthropologist. My bachelor’s and master’s degrees are also in anthropology. When I was a master’s student, I read an article about the global market of human organ trafficking, which is the buying and selling of human body parts on the black market. Before I read that article, I had never thought that such kind of dehumanization and exploitation could happen in human history. I couldn’t believe it. So, I decided to do my Ph.D. in medical anthropology, and write my dissertation on human organ trafficking. I’ve been doing this work for nearly two decades, and I’ve established myself as one of the experts in this field.

As a Ph.D. student, I went to Bangladesh and conducted yearlong ethnographic fieldwork to investigate the illicit trade in human organs, including kidneys, livers and corneas. Before doing my fieldwork, I found that a handful of research came out about the recipients of these organs, most of whom lived in the West. But I wanted to look at the other side of the story — people who are selling their body parts. Who they are, what is the process of selling an organ and how they are living in their damaged bodies. I was drawn into that.

For the first four months, I couldn’t find anyone to talk to. Not even doctors or recipients involved in the trade would disclose who sold them the organs. The sellers were extremely hidden. 

I tried talking to four organ brokers, which was very risky. I was being followed, and I couldn’t go outside after dark. It was a frightening experience. However, with one broker’s help, I was able to interview 33 kidney sellers who sold their kidneys on the black market. These are live people, not cadavers. I learned from them what kind of deception, manipulation, coercion and breach of consent led them to make such a decision.

The brokers basically entrap them, promising them a large amount of money (which they never get in the end),  and lure them in with a story about the “sleeping kidney.” This is a common lie told by brokers, that one kidney sleeps while the other one works, so in the operating room, the doctor can turn on the sleeping kidney and give the other one to another patient who needs one. The brokers present it as a win-win, no-risk situation and a noble way to help other people.

The kidney was the first organ that doctors started performing because the human body has two. That’s why kidneys became the dominant organ we can see in the black market. Recently, however, I published an article about liver trading, as a lobe of liver can be cut off and be transplanted into another body. For that article, I talked to two liver sellers.

They are both young people, still in their twenties. One didn’t know what “liver” meant in English, nor its function in the body. The operation took 20 hours, and he doesn’t have enough money to pay off his post-operative care, and his body doesn’t allow him to do any physically demanding jobs. So, he’s living much worse than before.

I also found that there are cornea sales. I talked to one woman who wanted to sell her cornea because she says she doesn’t need two eyes to see the world. She’s a single mother and works as a housemaid, so she wants to sell a part of her eye to get by. 

I believe that academia is not just for knowledge production: We need to translate our work to enact meaningful changes. For example, I am a member of a task force on organ transplantation at the World Health Organization. We monitor the situation and try to combat this practice worldwide. I was invited by the Vatican and we crafted a resolution that was signed by Pope Francis and distributed around the world. I also gave a talk to the U.S. Congress Human Rights Commission and U.S. Senate Foreign Relation Committee. It’s challenging to curb such an egregious human rights violation. It’s not going to happen overnight, but persistent work can improve the situation.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all humans on this planet are entitled to certain necessities to live, such as food, water, shelter… We have made some progress towards political rights, but if you look at economic rights, we have failed completely. Most people in the world live in poverty and 10% of world populations live on less than $2 a day or in constant hunger. This has some tragic consequences and that led to human organ trafficking around the world.

We cannot live in a world where human bodies are bought and sold on the market place. It’s dehumanizing, like slavery. As economic inequality increases at an unprecedented level, including in the United States, we cannot create a world where certain populations need to sell their body parts for their physical survival. The poor have every right to keep their body parts intact. In this context, we must think of human rights as bodily rights as well.

Media Contacts

Liz Schondelmayer

The reality of the situation is that not everyone sales their organs voluntarily some organs are stolen and others agree to sell their organs, sharing horror stories of waking up in a tub of ice. While others who do decide to sale their organs wake up to everyone missing and no pay. In some cases perfectly health organs are stolen out of patients bodies in the midst of medical fraud. What should be done to address this market and fraud? Why? Why not?

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‘Must raise voice against forced organ harvesting’

Rasika Bhale MUMBAI
NOVEMBER 04, 2019 01:35 IST
UPDATED: NOVEMBER 04, 2019 01:35 IST

Dr. Torsten Trey at the Mother Teresa Memorial Awards for Social Justice in Mumbai on Sunday.  

Winner of social justice award asks world to take a stand

An organisation that has been fearlessly highlighting the forced organ harvesting in China has been conferred with this year’s Mother Teresa Memorial Awards for Social Justice. The award was presented to Dr. Torsten Trey, founder, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH), in Mumbai on Sunday.

Other winners of the award included Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, founder of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan; Hasina Khabhih, founder of a non-profit organisation called Impulse; and Rob Williams, CEO of an NGO called War Child, U.K.

DAFOH has been working to create awareness on organ trafficking, primarily about mass killings for organ harvesting. Founded in 2006, DAFOH is a network of independent doctors across the globe. It has been raising its voice against the brutal practice of forced organ harvesting in China, which targets a religious minority called Falun Gong. The community follows the teachings of Master Li Hongzhi, who emphasised on meditation and self-cultivation for spiritual perfection.

‘Tortured minority’

“The Chinese government has been involved in mass persecution of the members of Falun Gong for over two decades. It has deemed them as a superstitious foreign-driven dangerous group of people and sent them to labour camps where they are starved, tortured, brainwashed and made targets of organ harvesting,” Dr. Trey told The Hindu.

Speaking about the origin of DAFOH, he said, “It was in 2006 that I came across the organ trafficking in the Falun Gong community. It was horrible. I was shaken and felt the need to do something. It was then that I came up with DAFOH. I received tremendous support from the medical community.”

DAFOH has a strong network of doctors in Taiwan from where it garners statistical information on forced organ harvesting in China. “The government says that around 10,000-15,000 organ transplants occur every year. However, according to a team of on-field researchers, the number is as high as 60,000. Meanwhile, the estimate for legal organ donations in the country is as less as 130 in six years,” he said.

‘Raise a voice’

Dr. Trey believes that people across the world should raise a voice against this. “It should concern you as a citizen of the world. If we just sit and watch it happen, saying it’s not my country, we are all being complicit in the crime. We need a shift in our thinking. We should discuss it and create awareness to bring about a change.”

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From diseased to transgenders there are several people with interest in organs. In the midst of a pandemic where many people’s loved one have died in the hospital alone, gives organ harvesting, theft and over all black market a close look. How can minority communities be protected? How does organ harvesting happen right here in the United States?

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