Sunday, July 06, 2008

Organ Trade Won't be Condoned

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July 4, 2008
Judge warns: Organ trade won't be condoned
He gives two donors short jail terms, blaming syndicates for exploiting them
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent
THE two poor Indonesians recently caught agreeing to sell their kidneys for over $20,000 each were given relatively light jail terms and fines yesterday.

The law will reserve a bigger punch for the shadowy syndicate that arranged the deal, said District Judge Bala Reddy.

Mere fines would not do for those running these syndicates, he said, adding: 'Longer custodial sentences should be reserved for the ringleaders and other major players in such syndicated offences who profit by exploiting the poor and disadvantaged.'

He said the duo knew they were breaking the law, but went ahead anyway because they needed the money.

Singapore law thus had to send a signal that commercial trade in human organs would not be condoned, and people must be deterred from trying to profiteer from the illegal sale of organs, he said.

The prosecution had sought a fine at the lower end of the spectrum for the two men, Sulaiman Damanik and Toni, on the illegal organ supply charges because their poverty had been exploited.

The prosecution had also recommended short jail terms for their having made false statutory declarations that they had not been paid for their kidneys and that they were related to the recipients.

Under the law, a transplant ethics committee (TEC) cannot give the go-ahead for a living donor organ transplant unless it is satisfied, among other things, that the intended organ donor had not entered into any contract to trade away his organ.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nor'ashikin Samdin asked for a sentence that would deter individuals like Toni and others from trying to profiteer from the sale of their organs.

Toni, who successfully sold one of his kidneys for 186 million rupiah (about $29,390) in March, was to be paid again to act as runner for another prospective kidney seller.

This transaction involving Sulaiman, which would have brought a kidney to ailing C.K. Tang boss Tang Wee Sung, did not go through.

Soon after the TEC approved the application for Sulaiman to become Mr Tang's living donor, the two Indonesians were arrested at Lucky Plaza.

The DPP said Singapore, in its quest to promote medical tourism, would not hesitate to take all measures to protect itself from becoming an illicit transplantation hub.

The Indonesians' lawyer Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed said his clients had no complaints about the sentences.

He said he felt the court had been 'very fair', and noted that it had considered that his clients had not actively sought to sell their organs.

After the sentencing, Toni spoke to his wife on the phone briefly and consoled her.

Mr Kemal Haripurwanto, the minister-counsellor and head of protocol and consular affairs at the Indonesian Embassy, said that considering the maximum sentence the pair could have received, the sentence passed was light.

I find the above news very disturbing. Why were only the sellers punished? What about the recipient, would-be recipient, the surgeon, the hospital and the TEC? I'm sure that just like the duo, the recipient, the would-be recipient and the surgeon knew very well that they were breaking the law but went ahead anyway because they needed the organ or the business. Are we again making the poor and "small men" as scapegoat and letting the rich and powerful go unscathed?