A 1997 law makes it illegal to sell organs and tissue and forbids anyone from soliciting them. Punishment includes three to eight years in prison and a fine equal to as much as 360 days of minimum wage. In 1998, Brazil passed a law making every Brazilian adult an organ donor at death, except in case of special exemption. But "presumed consent" was decried by critics and was subsequently amended a year later to require the consent of relatives. In the 1990s, Brazilian newspapers reported that prisoners were granted furloughs to donate their organs.
While it is now against health ministry regulations to buy and sell organs, one bill pending in the Knesset would make it a felony. If it passes, brokers could be fined and receive up to three years in prison, though recipients and donors would not be prosecuted. Another proposal would make it legal to reimburse a kidney donor for healthcare costs.
The Human Tissue Act of 1983 says that no one can receive payment for the transfer of any tissue, including flesh, bone, organ, or body fluid. Violators are subject to a maximum fine of $300 or imprisonment of no more than one year. But a loophole grants a hospital's medical director and pathologist the right to remove tissues and organs without consent, when the identity of the deceased person is initially unknown and relatives have not come forward to claim the body within the period when organ retrieval is medically feasible.
President Bush signed the Organ Donation and Recovery Improvement Act on April 5. While it is still illegal to sell or pay for organs, the act authorizes the federal government to reimburse living donors for expenses and to offer project grants aimed at increasing donations and improving organ preservation and compatibility. And this year, Wisconsin became the first state to give living donors a tax deduction of up to $10,000 for medical costs, travel, and lost salary.
Kidney sales are legal and regulated. The trade is organized and controlled by two nongovernmental organizations - the Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP) and the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases (CFSD) - both endorsed by the government. The CASKP connects potential recipients and donors, and organizes tests to ensure compatibility. Recipients often offer donors employment or extra money after the transplant.
The Indian government tried to stop illegal organ transplants with a 1994 law that criminalizes organ sales but allows for "unrelated kidney sales," a loophole that has led to corruption. Nonprofit organizations in the area claim the trade is rising now that it has gone underground.
It's illegal to buy or sell organs in China. But a 1984 law allows organs to be transplanted from an executed prisoner if family members don't claim the body right away. Amnesty International says Chinese media reported 1,060 judicial executions in 2002. But it says the actual figure may be as high as 15,000. Most harvested prisoner organs are sold to medical "visitors" from Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore.
A British woman may be the first citizen to face prosecution under the country's Human Organ Transplants Act of 1989, which prohibits the sale or solicitation of any organ within the country. Last month, to pay off her legal debts, the woman closed a deal over the Internet to sell her kidney for $50,000 to an American.
Sources: Organs Watch; US Congress and State Department; British, Brazilian, Indian, and Israeli newspapers; Associated Press