Biological Colonialism: Philippines New Health Secretary Won’t Loosen Organ Sales Protections

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on February 14, 2011

By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

Biological colonialism — the named I coined for rich (usually) Westerners traveling to destitute countries to buy kidneys, rent uteri from “gestational carriers,” conduct unethical medical experimentation, etc. — has led some nations to outlaw non nationals from obtaining organ transplants and from organ selling. The Philippines was one such country (Pakistan another). The issue was so pressing, that when the new Minister of Health hinted he might soften the law, it held up his confirmation. He is now back on the ethical bus. From the story:

After the deferment of his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said Thursday that he has no intention of changing the administrative order banning kidney transplant and donation. The AO, issued by former Health chief Esperanza Cabral in June 2010, established a national program for organ donation from deceased donors, in response to the increasing organ trafficking problem in the country. It prohibits foreign patients from undergoing organ transplant in the Philippines and receiving organ donations from living non-related donors. In an interview with reporters, Ona said he does not intend to change or repeal the AO but only proposed to review it. On Wednesday, the bicameral body deferred the confirmation of Ona’s nomination as health chief after Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she wanted Ona to clarify his position on kidney transplant and donation. Santiago pointed out the cases of organ trafficking in the country and said that many poor Filipinos who need money resort to selling their kidneys, unaware of the risks involved in doing so.

A Philippine Medical Association wants the ban softened:

The ban on living non-related organ donors was put in place to help curb cases of organ trafficking in the country, but the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) recently wrote to Ona urging the DOH to re-assess its policy on organ donations, especially its impact to patients who badly need a kidney transplant. “There are numerous patients in the country who are fighting for their lives, in a death row-like cue, waiting for this life saving procedure to be performed on them,” PMA president Dr. Oscar Tinio said in a letter to Ona in December 2010. “Unfortunately, due to the current policy of the Department of Health to put a ban on non-directed donors, these patients will die without the needed organs to save them,” he said. Tinio said the stringent government policy to limit organ donation only to related donors, deceased donors and directed non-related donors is aggravating the situation. “We acknowledge that abuses were committed in the past and we definitely condemn these unscrupulous acts. However, the fact remains today that there is not enough supply of donor organs that can save the lives of our patients,” Tinio said.

Saving lives is important. But the wealthy sick should not be able to do so at the expense of the healthy poor. If there were a way of assuring that altruistic donations were not actually business transactions, that might be loosened up. But that could be difficult and rich Filipinos should no more be permitted to treat their country men and women as a crop yield than those from out of the country.

More nations should take action to protect their people from biological predators. Goodness knows the lives of the destitute are hard enough as it is. Good for the Philippines Parliament for not backing down.

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