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Redirecting Human Organs to the Third World

The latest edition of The Lancet reports on an organ transplantation scandal from Germany.

A transplant surgeon, for the moment known only as Aiman O., diverted human livers for transplantation from Germany to Jordan and Oman. He also gave false addresses in Germany to Jordanian patients so that they might receive transplants in Germany.

The Lancet does not report Aiman O.’s motives, whether pecuniary (as seems most likely) or otherwise. But an important aspect of the scandal is that the authorities in Germany were alerted to the surgeon’s activities seven years before they acted to curb them, by which time a further 20 cases had come to light. Public trust in oversight of the German transplant system has plummeted.

But what exactly was wrong with Aiman O.’s conduct, assuming that as many people’s lives have been saved by it as if he had obeyed the rules laid down by the German law?

There are, after all, those who believe that there ought to be a market in human organs: that livers, kidneys, etc., ought to go to the highest bidder. But they probably also believe in an open market, not a restricted one such as that in which Aiman O. operated (if, that is, he operated in one at all). He would have been, in effect, insider trading.