Australians are aghast over reports that an elderly Sydney woman with kidney disease flew in a younger woman from the Philippines in order to get her kidney.
The Sydney Morning Herald
reports the younger woman had not fully consented to the plan, which was discovered during routine hospital screening interviews before the transplant was to have taken place.
Australian Federal Police has said in a statement that a search warrant has been executed at a home in New South Wales state. No one has been arrested but the investigation is continuing.
The Minister for Justice, Brendan O'Connor, told the newspaper that trafficking for the purpose of harvesting organs was an international problem, but it was rare in Australia.
''Irrespective of the type of exploitation, human trafficking follows the same premise: that people are trafficked to supply a demand - be it sex, labour or human body parts,'' he said.
More than two-thirds of trafficking cases in the year to June 30 were related to sexual exploitation with most of the remainder concerning labour exploitation, Mr O'Connor said. Donations by ''genetically or emotionally related donors'' was a well-established practice recognised at home and abroad as being ethically acceptable, he said.
The director of the Anti-Slavery Project at the University of Technology Sydney, Jennifer Burn, said donor consent was irrelevant when obtained by threat, deception, payment or abuse of a vulnerable person.
''There is a global shortage of organs for transplantation and this is giving rise to exploitative conduct and the possibility of grave harm being caused to people who themselves are vulnerable,'' she said.
As most other developing countries, Philippines also offers a fertile ground for organ seekers. People are so poor that they would do anything for a living. When they can live with just one kidney, why not sell the other and make some money?
India was rocked by a scam over kidney-selling by tsunami victims a couple of years ago. But such transactions usually take place in situ,
as it were. A troubling dimension of medical tourism is the rich on the hunt for poor donors. But this is the first time perhaps that the donor is flown into the country of the recipient.
Australia has one of the lowest organ donation rates among wealthy countries. Transplant Australia said organ donations were rising in Australia but demand still outstripped supply. It said there are 1591 Australians waiting for a life-saving transplant and 308 donations were made last year
Figures released by the organ donor register show transplants have fallen in some states and territories despite the plan.
However, Kidney Health Australia director Dr Tim Matthew told ABC News that such a case as the Filipino's was unlikely to go undetected.
"The whole system is very tightly regulated largely within the public hospital system," he said.
"It's virtually inconceivable that a private transplant [could take place] in some peripheral hospital in this country that would allow a foreign resident to go ahead with [the] commercial donation of a kidney."
Transplant Australia's chief executive, Chris Thomas, said he could understand the temptation for Australians to look overseas but cautioned against it.
''There are real life-and-death situations occurring in Australia all of the time ... but our very firm position is that we do not approve in any way people from wealthy countries preying on poor and vulnerable nations,'' he said.