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"Rotten Trade" conference examines global organs trafficking

– The global trafficking of human bodies and body parts will be the focus of a Rotten Trade conference on Thursday, April 24, at the University of California, Berkeley. Scholars, bioethicists, human rights activists and transplant surgeons will participate in the event, which is free and open to the public.

Participants will report on issues related to the trafficking and associated corruption, as well as the buying and selling of blood and individual organs via a "transplant tourism" network. The goal, organizers say, is to bring attention to organ trafficking as a subset of a larger global problem in human trafficking.

The previous day (Wednesday, April 23), Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a UC Berkeley medical anthropologist and founder of Organs Watch, a UC Berkeley-based medical human rights organization, will give a 5 p.m. talk, "Beyond Bio-Ethics: Global Justice and the Traffic in Organs," at Wheeler Hall Auditorium. The lecture is one of UC Berkeley's two prestigious Faculty Research Lectures being given in 2003.

Slides and film segments of actual organ trafficking in the Middle East and the Philippines will accompany Scheper-Hughes' talk, which will explore the failure of bioethics and human rights organizations to address medical human rights abuses.

Scheper-Hughes says the world is in a "post-human era," where there is an erosion taking place of the western concept of the human body's integrity and dignity. Humans view the body as theirs to buy - or sell - at will, she adds, and that view is hardly challenged by bioethicists because so many of them have been co-opted by the medical establishment.

"Bioethics is about as unregulated as the kidney trade," she says.

The medical human rights abuses associated with the organ trade, she adds, are a "new form of human trafficking and human bondage."

Specific topics at the April 24 conference will include:

  • A new "global Mafia" harming people and communities
  • China's AIDS epidemic and the related market for blood transfusions
  • Ethical dilemmas surrounding the ongoing treatment of patients who have knowingly received organs from executed prisoners in China, and medical system complicity in the executions
  • The trafficking of women in Eastern Europe
  • Nigerian "Dear Trusted Friend" scams
  • Sweatshops and slave labor around the world
  • The social and economic consequences of kidney selling in India
The keynote speaker at the Rotten Trade conference will be Jane Schneider, a renowned anthropologist with the City University of New York's Graduate Center and a leading authority on the Sicilian Mafia. Schneider, author with husband Peter Schneider of "Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia and the Struggle in Palermo" (UC Press, 2003), will talk about the globalization of the Mafia.

Other speakers will include Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee in New York City and an authority on child labor in the global economy; Dr. Ash Sehgal of Case Western Reserve Medical School and author of a study on Indians who have sold their kidneys; and Chung To of the Chi Heng Foundation for human rights in Hong Kong.

To will be joined in his talk by Kathleen Erwin of UC San Francisco. She will discuss profit motives and unhygienic practices at provincial blood stations and black market blood centers in rural China that have created an AIDS epidemic in those regions. In some villages there, more than 60 percent of the adult population is HIV positive. To will present a slide show and discuss the impact of the AIDS epidemic in China, as seen through the lives of villagers and AIDS orphans with whom he has worked.

Thomas Diflo, a New York University Medical Center doctor who has treated patients who received kidneys from executed prisoners in China, will present a report on ethical conflicts stemming from that practice.

Other authorities from UC Berkeley and experts from UCLA also will join the conference.

Organizers say the program, sponsored by the campus-based Organs Watch, will explore the underside of free trade's increase in consumer choices, a decreasing number of regulatory barriers, and more efficiently operating markets.