Kazakstan: Organ Trade Scandal

Unscrupulous morgue attendants are suspected of being behind an illegal trade in human organs.

Kazakstan: Organ Trade Scandal

Unscrupulous morgue attendants are suspected of being behind an illegal trade in human organs.

Scores of Kazaks are claiming that organs from recently deceased relatives are being illegally sold for transplants.

The authorities have recorded over 20 such cases since January 2002, but unofficial estimates say the figure is five times higher.

The newspaper Vremya recently highlighted the case of Igor Odinokov, who was hospitalised after being attacked by two young men in Almaty in mid-August.

He suffered severe head injuries and underwent brain surgery, which seemed to be successful. However, his condition worsened overnight and he died of his injuries the following morning.

Although he was conscious when he was admitted to the hospital and gave his name and address to the ambulance crew, Odinokov's relatives claim they were not informed of his death until two days later.

The family insisted on a second post mortem, which revealed that both kidneys were missing from his body. Questions are now being asked why the organs were removed without the permission or knowledge of Odinokov's next of kin.

"It's not that we are against the transplantation of Igor's organs. If someone's life depended on it, we would probably have agreed. But his kidneys were simply stolen," said Odinokov's sister.

The dead man's kidneys had been sent to a clinic in Almaty where they were used in a life-saving operation. Its deputy director Baurjan Albazarov told Vremya, "The centre knows nothing about the fact that the relatives were not informed."

Albazarov insisted his establishment only accepts registered organs and can produce the relevant legal documents for each transplant operation conducted. He accused medical personnel who initially dealt with the Odinokov case of professional negligence.

The main question here is how Odinokov's kidneys came to be registered without the prior consent of his family. Under Kazak law, organs can only be donated and transplanted legally with the agreement of the donor or their next of kin.

Legally obtained body parts are provided and transplanted for free. Unregistered organs are traded for 2,000 and 15,000 dollars.

Several media reports have pointed the finger at morgue attendants. In September 2001, the director of a morgue in Almaty was sacked following a criminal investigation into the illegal removal of organs on his premises.

"I don't know whose side to take," said Alia Jakibaeva, an Almaty medical student. "On the one hand illegally transplanted organs can save someone's life, but on the other they've clearly been stolen.

"Organ transplantation should only take place with the official consent of the relatives of the deceased, or the donor himself, and illegal transplantation should be punished severely."

No one has yet been charged over the Odinokov case, but an investigation is underway. Many other cases have gone unreported.

Until the authorities deal with this problem in earnest, dishonest surgeons and morgue attendants stand to go on benefiting from the misfortunes of others.

Erbol Jumagulov is an IWPR contributor in Almaty

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