Published: Feb. 3, 2017

Renowned MSU scholar to speak at Vatican summit on organ trafficking

Contact(s): Monir Moniruzzaman Anthropology office: (517) 355-0189, Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949

A Michigan State University scholar who gained international acclaim for his work to expose the black market for human organs has been invited to present his groundbreaking research at the Vatican.

Medical anthropologist Monir Moniruzzaman will participate in an organ trafficking summit, called for by Pope Francis, Feb. 7-8 in Rome. The pope has made the eradication of organ trafficking a priority, describing it as a type of slavery.

“Organ trafficking violates the principles of justice, equity and respect for human dignity as it entails not only the sale of organs, but also because it has become a form of slavery” that exploits the poor and destitute, according to the website for the 2017 Pontifical Academy Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism.

Moniruzzaman has chronicled organ trafficking in South Asia for more than a decade, including spending a year infiltrating the black market for organs in his native Bangladesh. There, he found case after case of impoverished residents being exploited to sell their kidneys, livers and corneas by wealthy recipients living in regions such as the United States, Europe and Middle East. Because organ-selling is illegal in the vast majority of countries, organ brokers forge documents indicating the recipient and seller are related and claim the act is a family donation.

Doctors, hospital officials and drug companies turn a blind eye to the illicit act because they profit along with the broker and the recipient.

Most donors rarely receive the compensation promised. Some die from the operation. For many others, complications from the surgery can lead to chronic pain, depression, social isolation and inability to work.

Moniruzzaman’s mission goes beyond the typical research, extending into advocacy for justice and policy work. He has presented his findings to both the Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“We’re not only advancing knowledge, but we’re trying to find a solution on how to combat organ trafficking and curb it,” said Moniruzzaman, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences at MSU.

Organ trafficking is driven by a shortage of organs for transplantation. According to the World Health Organization, only 10 percent of the needed 1 million organ transplants are performed each year. Moniruzzaman hopes the Pope’s summit will encourage more people around the world to donate organs when they die, thereby reducing the need for organ trafficking.

“Every major religion has accepted organ donation, but there is still confusion among many people about whether their religion accepts it,” Moniruzzaman said. “Pope Francis has publicly stated that organ donation is a form of love to your neighbor for saving lives. Why do we need to exploit poor and vulnerable people instead of sharing life?”

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