Ottawa Citizen, March 08, 2007 — A Calgary business is under fire for helping North Americans who need new organs acquire livers and lungs from China, with critics claiming the country executes prisoners to supply a burgeoning transplant industry.
Calgary-based Overseas Medical Services assists patients with purchasing organ transplants for $120,000 US, facilitating four transplant surgeries recently for Americans who faced lengthy wait lists at home. Several Canadian patients have also expressed interest in the service.
Aruna Thurairajan, owner of Overseas Medical Services, and her clients insist the Chinese organs come from consenting donors.
“The people who talk about the ethical problems aren’t the ones walking in the shoes of the patient,” said Thurairajan, a former Sri Lankan medical administrator. “There’s no reason we should stop this. We should promote it,” she added.
But human rights advocates say Ottawa and the provinces should enact laws stopping Canadians from participating in the international organ trade, arguing the industry has troubling practices.
In January, Winnipeg lawyer David Matas and former Liberal MP David Kilgour released a report alleging China is harvesting organs taken without consent from executed prisoners, mainly Falun Gong practitioners.
“We should be prohibiting this sort of traffic,” said Matas in an interview from Dublin, where he was presenting results of his report. “We need our laws to be extraterritorial so they apply when the transplant is abroad.”
Matas’ report implicates the Chinese military in the harvesting of the organs. It also claimed that some Canadians had travelled to China to purchase organs.
Groups like Human Rights Watch have also voiced concerns over the Chinese transplant industry. Some family members of executed prisoners have said they didn’t give consent to donate their organs, according to the New York-based advocacy group.
China denies the allegations. A recent statement from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa said Matas’ report is based on rumours, calling it “biased and groundless.”
Overseas Medical Services made headlines itself last spring when the company began brokering $30,000 US kidney transplants in Pakistan from live donors willing to sell one of their kidneys.
Thurairajan said she has since expanded her business to China because there are a wider variety of organs available for sale, including livers, lungs and hearts.
In the past six months, Thurairajan — who receives a payment worth 10 per cent of the surgery for her services — has arranged for three clients to have liver transplants and one to undergo a lung transplant.
She said the transplant industry is tightly regulated in China and entirely “above board.”