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Organ Harvesting

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What is Organ Harvesting?

Forced organ harvesting is the illegal practice of surgically removing a victim’s organs against their will. They are forcefully removed. Some examples:

  • Victims are kidnapped and have an organ forcefully removed.
  • Victims are tricked into believing they require an operation and whilst under anaesthetic have an organ removed, without knowledge or consent.
  • Human traffickers are known to offer safe passage in return for an organ.
  • Many victims of forced organ harvesting have previously been exploited through human trafficking and other forms of slavery.
  • Other victims are murdered on demand and have their organs removed to fulfil an order.

The incidence of forced organ harvesting is rising worldwide. The World Health Organisation predicts that more than one illegal organ transaction is made every hour worldwide.

Surgical extracting an organ involves major surgery, with major risks involved. The extraction of some organs (e.g. kidneys) is performed on living donors poses a substantial risk to life and future quality of life. As well as the risk of major surgery, the status of organ harvesting means that protocol and hygiene standards may be questionable increasing the risk of infection and endangering victims.

Organ transplants are becoming increasingly commonplace. They are carried out by the NHS in Wales. These transplants are safeguarded to reduce the risk of organ harvesting. The Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 permits an opt-out system of organ donation, presumed consent or deemed consent. It allows hospitals to presume that people aged 18 or over, who have been resident in Wales for over 12 months want to donate their organs at their death unless they have objected specifically. For more information on the safeguards and strict criteria that are used to underpin any decisions around transplants please see Organ Donation.

  • The Human Tissue Act 2004 was introduced to ensure that living donors have made an informed and voluntary decision to donate their organ free from duress, coercion and reward.
  • The UK ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
  • The Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking Human Organs which criminalises the trafficking of human organs and to take measures to protect victims. It is an international legally biding document to address the issue from a criminal law perspective. The UK signed the convention in March 2015.
  • Modern Slavery Act (2015) brings together former legislation and includes organ harvesting is an offence.
  • The Declaration of Istanbul was signed in 2008 and provides the ethics around transplants with the aim of tackling transplant tourism, trafficking and commercialisation on an international scale.
  • Medicine and Medical Devices Act 2021 prevents complicity in forced organ harvesting within the UK medicine industry with appropriate consent required for imported human tissues for use in medicines.

Freedom United (YouTube): UK Anti-Slavery Day Webinar Tackling forced organ harvesting and organ trafficking