By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

When will enough, finally, be enough. Not only are organs now being sold by desperate people in destitute countries — to the point that some governments have been forced to ban organ transplant surgeries for non citizens or receiving organs from non relatives — but the practice is apparently spreading to developed countries like S. Korea. From the Korea Times story:

A 35-year-old man from Incheon, surnamed Lee, is one of those who decided to sell his kidney to repay part of his debts, after suffering from financial difficulties for years. “My online shopping mall business went bankrupt three years ago, leaving me massive amounts of debt,” he said, adding the sale of his organ was the only way to earn a substantial sum of money at one time. Recent statistics show there are increasing reports of such illegal messages on the Internet by people like Lee, which means human organ trafficking cases are steadily on the increase.

How does one combat this growing predation of the desperate by the well heeled? Laws outlawing the practice, yes. But crimes such as organ buying — like assisted suicide — no longer apparently merit sufficient concern:

Ironically, the number of criminals arrested on charges of organ trafficking has decreased sharply, recording only one as of June this year, down from three in 2010, nine in 2009, 18 in 2008 and 71 in 2007. “That’s so disappointing,” Yang Jae-won, a secretary to the lawmaker, said. “It’s obvious that the police have no will to crack down on illegal organ traffickers.” The police don’t recognize the seriousness of the issue as they don’t have any statistics or data regarding the crime, Yang said. “After they came under fire for the lack of any outcome, they started to crack down on illegal activities and arrested 20 traffickers in the past two months, and asked us to take it into consideration. This just shows how lame they are on the issue of prevalent human organ trafficking.”

So, if the law is often self-limited, what can be done? Some advocate that doctors refuse to treat patients whom they know have bought organs in China or elsewhere. Tempting, but that would amount to a death penalty, so no can do. And confidentiality rules prevent turning the purchaser in to authorities — even if they would do anything.

But with the UN reporting that 10% of all kidney transplants now come from trafficking, we can’t just throw up our hands. Better and more effectively enforced laws are always welcome. But better that the laws never be broken. It seems to me that a potentially effective dissuader would be peer, family, and societal scorn for any and every biological colonizer. I mean, with all the yelling about the need for social justice, what could be less just than taking advantage of the desperate for their body parts? (For those interested, my pal, mega-selling novelist Dean Koontz, depicted how this might work in his novel, Your Heart Belongs to Me.)

Alas, people currently pay no social penalty for buying organs. To the contrary, as I have noted here, some openly brag about it. For example, Daniel Asa Rose, the kidney-buyer-of-a-probably-murdered-Chinese-prisoner, wrote a book about his predation as a comedy, and received good reviews in such supposedly social justice friendly newspapers as the NY Times. (I’ll bet the family of the person killed for the kidney were really amused.) Debra criticized another organ buyer from China, who pushed organ buying on his Web site, in a great column entitled appropriately, “American Vampire.”

People who buy organs from the desperate poor think their lives are more important than the health and lives of their sellers. Too often, families often agree. Too often, friends smile benignly and congratulate the recipient for their good fortune. But if we let people know that we would break friendships if someone buys an organ, if family members promise to support and love in illness, but to shun in exploitation, perhaps we could blunt the growth we are seeing in human organ futures. In other words, we need to use the power of peer pressure to promote character, even in times of direst crisis.

This much I know: Unless we get a handle on this immoral trend, human beings will increasingly be treated by the wealthy and powerful as mere natural resource colonizing opportunities. And there is no social justice in that.