Prosecutor calls for law to bar Canadians from buying human organs overseas

Ottawa must pass legislation barring Canadians from buying human organs in foreign countries, a Canadian prosecutor who led a landmark case against several human organs traffickers in Kosovo said Monday.

While the commercial trade of human organs is illegal in most countries, there is no law banning Canadians from taking part in so-called transplant tourism, Jonathan Ratel said from Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.

“It is not illegal for Canadians to exit their own country and travel abroad to the sub-continent, to Asia, to Africa and to Eastern Europe and purchase organs there on the black market for transplantation and then return home to Canada,” he said in a phone interview.

“I do think that Parliament needs to clearly look at legislation banning (Canadians) from travelling abroad and engaging in what’s called transplant tourism.”

Ratel, who works for the European Union’s rule of law mission in Kosovo, brought charges against seven people suspected of running an international organ trafficking ring that took kidneys from poor donors lured by financial promises.

A court in Pristina found two of them guilty of human trafficking and organized crime Monday.

A panel of three judges sentenced urologist Lutfi Dervishi to eight years in prison and his son Arban Dervishi to seven years and three months.

A third defendant, Sokol Hajdini, was sentenced to three years in jail for causing grievous bodily harm. Two others received suspended sentences, while two were freed.

At least 24 kidney transplants, involving 48 donors and recipients, were carried out between 2008 and 2009, the period the case covered.

A Canadian man who admitted to purchasing a black-market kidney abroad was among the more than 100 witnesses in the trial, which began in December 2011.

Raul Fain, a Toronto resident, flew to Istanbul and then Pristina to undergo the surgery in 2008, prosecutors said.

He never faced charges in the case and died shortly after testifying by video link in 2011, Ratel said, adding he believes the transplant was a “contributing factor” in Fain’s death.

The trial heard that the victims were promised $10,000 to $12,000 in return for their kidneys, but many said they were never paid.

“At least two were cheated out of the entire amount and went home with no money and only one kidney,” the court said in its reasoning.

The kidney recipients — who were mostly wealthy patients from countries such as Canada, Israel, Poland, the U.S. and Germany — paid up to $170,000 for the procedure. The defendants are believed to have profited $1 million from the transplants.

Most of the names of donors and recipients were traced through documents seized during a police raid into a medical facility named “Medicus” on the outskirts of Pristina in 2008.

Organ transplantation is illegal in Kosovo’s private clinics. It is also rare in public health facilities because of poor conditions.

“This is the exploitation of the poor, the indigent, the vulnerable and the marginalized in our society — they are the only ones who would even possibly consider this, the sale of your own body parts or organs,” Ratel said.

“The recipients are wealthy, influential citizens from foreign countries, largely Western countries, that can afford to purchase human organs from the indigent, from the poor,” he said.

“It’s a cruel harvest of the poor,” he added.