UN resolutions, ethics and big business

As I continue my journey home from the medical tourism trade show in Mexicali – I am reminded of the urgency of the need for industry regulation.  This reminder comes in the form, of a very nice Chinese woman in the Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

Woman soliciting signatures for United Nations petition against organ harvesting

Woman soliciting signatures for United Nations petition against organ harvesting

Now, in this photo she is talking to a traveler in the airport.  Sadly, he seemed to think she was trying to sell him something, instead of merely enlisting his aid against human rights atrocities.

(If you look close at the next photo, you can see her display).

organs (2)

I have blurred her features to preserve her privacy and safety.

We have talked about this topic before, in several previous posts, particularly when talking about transplant tourism: (with links to source articles within posts)

The Ethics of Transplant Tourism

Ethics 2

The Ugly side of Medical Tourism

But now – on the heels of a gathering dedicated to the business side of medical tourism (with nary a consideration for ethics or the need to establish a moral compass) this woman, her brochures and her sign remind me, yet again – why it is important for readers, and medical travelers to be informed.



But it’s not enough to be aware of the abuses and human rights violations.  It’s important that we, as consumers, service providers and yes, even as a writer, not contribute to companies, practices or services that help support the routine execution of other human beings in our own pursuit of health.  It is more than unethical – to me it is unthinkable.

So sign the petitions, research the issue  – and more importantly, research your medical tourism facilitators (travel agencies), and destinations.  Most of all – don’t buy an organ – no matter what.

“Chose Colombia” campaign for medical tourism

As Colombia’s profile continues to rise as a medical tourism destination, Proexport is launching a new campaign which will air on international media such as the Discovery Health channel.  As reported in the Curacao Chronicle, Colombia is becoming a destination of choice for high complexity medical procedures, and expanding to include visitors from a myriad of destinations, including North America.


Historically, patients from the Caribbean have come to Colombia for medical tourism due to the lack of even basic services in most Caribbean nations – which is something travelers should keep in mind now that Barbados, and several other islands have launched their own medical tourism campaigns.

The growing role of Planet Hospital in Colombia

The only alarming part – appears to be the heavy participation of Planet Hospital in the world marketing of Colombian medical services.  Planet Hospital, a massively successful medical tourism company, which proudly exists in a ‘no mans’ land” of ethics (according to founder, Rudy Rupak).   The company also prides itself on its global forays into surrogacy and transplant tourism, both of which are highly controversal.

Selling babies… and organs

While people can continue to argue the ethics of the surrogacy baby trade, the murder of Chinese and other citizens for organ transplantation should give anyone pause.  Or the fact, that companies like Planet Hospital will send potential patients to someone who isn’t even trained in transplant

But that hasn’t stopped Planet Hospital in their quest, the ever-expanding global tourism empire has seemingly become more bulletproof in the last few months.  Multiple websites, blogs and news articles that detailed corruption and casualities (as well as problems behind the scenes) at Planet Hospital have seemingly disappeared.

Now it appears Planet Hospital will be adding  Colombia to it’s stables and laughing all the way to the bank.

the ethical, moral and health hazards of transplant tourism

Now that’s a mighty long title – for a very small section of medical tourism, which alternates in generating world-wide headlines and being swept quietly under the rug.

Bathtub full of ice

Everyone has heard ‘urban folklore’ regarding the unwary/ drunken/ duped young man who goes looking for sex, and wakes up in a bathtub full of ice.. Conventional wisdom is that these tales serve as a modern-day fairy tale with an underlying moral message.  In this case – cautioning young people against the vices of alcohol/ drugs and anonymous/ promiscuous sex..  If only the truth were really just such a cautionary tale. But, as readers know, the truth is considerably darker – involving the exploitation and even outright murder of citizens around the world to feed the organ trade.

(For the first-person account from a Chinese doctor involved in organ harvesting, click here. )

“Transplant Tourism”

This division of medical tourism, “Transplant tourism“,  is the sanitized term for organ selling, or diversion of transplantable organs to wealthy consumers (outside of the formal donor networks like UNOS).

Transplant tourism/ murder for organs is making headlines again this week as Taiwanese legislators try to ban the practice among their citizens and residents.  The Taiwanese lawmakers are trying to prevent the practice of wealthy patients (and companies making money from the sale of organs/ transplantation) using China as a ‘spare parts’ playground.

As widely reported over the last several years – China has become notorious for widespread ethical violations, including the murder (execution) of political prisoners for organ sales and transplantation to wealthy buyers.  Many of these political prisoners are people accused of such crimes as the practice of the religion, Falun Gong, or for expressing ideas that challenge the traditional Chinese culture or current government practices.

Not illegal in the United States

Unfortunately, despite multiple scientific, medical, governmental papers and sporadic media coverage of this issue – it is not illegal for Americans to engage in this practice, nor for American companies to offer transplantation services based on these practices.  (It is illegal for organs to be sold in the USA, but not for people to travel to engage in these practices.) While the United Nations, New Zealand, Australia and now, Taiwan have begun addressing this practice – the US government remains silent.

Protecting citizens from the wealthy foreigner

Other nations, like Pakistan have acted to try to prevent their citizens from becoming donor sources for wealthy foreigners.  Just today, a new law was passed to prevent organs obtained in Pakistan from being given to non-Pakistani residents. While these laws will not eliminate the practice outright, these countries and their citizens have taken a moral and legal stance against the practices. Now, it’s our turn.

Resources/ More information on this topic

More about the people “criminals” the Chinese government is executing – and taking organs from – Washington Post, November 2012

List of famous Chinese dissidents – Wikipedia

More about the murder and torture of practitioners of Falun Gong

The Ugly Side of Medical Tourism – a related post with links to scholarly articles and media reports regarding transplant tourism in China and Latin America.

A look at why transplant tourism is not safe for recipients, either.

Patients with passports – another post on law, ethics and medical tourism discussion focused on the publication of a book by the same title.  Includes links to several articles by Dr. Delmonico – the foremost  expert on illegal organ transplantation.

In the operating room with Dr. Martin Juzaino

This post is a little overdue since I was out of town for a few days.. I missed the 115 degree temps and I missed Mexicali too..

Dr. Juzaino (left) and Dr. Rivera

Usually, I go to surgery after I’ve spoken to the surgeon, and talked to them for a while but in this case – I had heard of Dr. Juzaino (after all – he practices at Hospital General de Mexicali) but couldn’t find a way to contact him – he’s not in the yellow pages, and no one seemed to have his number..

So I just hung out and waited for him when I saw his name on the surgery schedule. He was supernice, and invited me to stay and watch his femoral – popliteal bypass surgery.  Case went beautifully – leg fully revascularized at the end of the case.   Patient was awake during the case but appeared very comfortable.

intern during surgery

There was a beautiful intern in the surgery – her face was just luminous so I couldn’t resist taking a picture.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get her name, and no one recognizes her because of the mask – so I am hoping some one from the OR recognizes her here.. I’d like to send her a copy of the picture.. (and get permission to post it..)

Saw Lupita Dominguez – who in the role of nursing instructor that day.  She is always so delightful – I need to get a picture of her with out the mask so all of you can see her -besides being an outstanding nurse, and nursing instructor,  she is just the friendliest, sweetest person with cute freckles to boot.. (I am very envious of people with freckles..)

On another note entirely, here’s some more information about the ethical implications of transplant tourism for my interested readers as follow up to my Examiner.com article.  It’s a video of lectures by one of the leading ethicists and transplant surgeons, Dr. Delmonico.. (yes, like the steak.)

The dangers of Medical Tourism

A new press release from a law office in the United States – highlights the importance of what I do – and why I think it is a necessary and essential endeavor.  The author, James Goldberg has also written a book about the potential dangers of medical tourism due to a lack of regulation among brokers who are just looking for the cheapest providers (for higher profit margins).  As we all know – that’s not the right way to chose a surgeon (and it’s not fair to consumers who trust brokers to deliver high quality care.)

I just ordered it – so I’ll give a full ‘book report’ once it arrives.

Unfortunately, the more I continue on in my efforts to provide unbiased and object reviews, the more I become disheartened by the lack of interest on the part of the medical tourism industry itself.  For the most part, these travel agencies are just that – and hold themselves to no higher ethical or moral standards that the travel agencies of old – except now we are talking about more than missed flights or less than stellar hotel rooms.

The response from the surgeons themselves has been (for the most part) enthusiastic about being reviewed, but until consumers hold the vendors of these services to a higher standard – it will never happen on any sort of global scale.

For the time being – it looks like it’s just me – and my dwindling retirement fund.