Reported in The Canadian Star, tt was during one of his many trips to Ukraine that the horror of organ trafficking first hit Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
Sitting in the airport he glanced at a newspaper story about a police investigation into the disappearance of teenagers from a local orphanage.
“These children weren’t being adopted, these children were being harvested for their organs,” says the popular former Etobicoke MP, who lost his seat in the last federal election by a handful of votes. “It’s unnerving what’s going on — the bodies of the most vulnerable are being cannibalized.”
That was back in 2005, and in the years since Wrzesnewskyj has tried unsuccessfully to get Canada to crack down on transplant tourism.
He drafted a private member’s bill that would have made it illegal for Canadians to purchase organs abroad and barred medical practitioners engaged in the practice from entering Canada.
The bill would have created a certification program obliging patients to prove their organ was willingly donated and not purchased or stolen — a simple thing for any Canadian transplant but much harder for an organ obtained from shadier operations overseas.
His proposed law made it to a first reading twice in two successive minority parliaments but, as is usually the case with private member’s bills, it died in the House of Commons, even though the former Liberal MP says he had support from members of other parties.
“Something has to be done to get people to truly appreciate the impact they are having,” says the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Adeera Levin, co-chair of an international group charged with implementing the Declaration of Istanbul, which wants to end to transplant tourism.
She notes that Canada already has laws making it a crime for Canadians to commit certain offences abroad, such as child sex tourism. “Organ trafficking fits into that — it’s exploitation, rich people buying organs from poor people. The problem is right now there aren’t any legal consequences for Canadians doing that.”
Wrzesnewskyj has empathy for Canadians on waiting lists desperate for a new kidney, but he insists even our own mortality cannot trump morality.
“Our hearts go out to you, but do you want to be complicit in the sacrifice of another human being, someone who was not blessed with being born in Canada?” he asks.
Wrzesnewskyj calls that failure one of the most frustrating of his career.
“We’re trying to prevent Canadians from being complicit in a modern horror,” he says. “I’m aghast to think that there are Canadians involved in something like this.”
Mortal illness no justification for putting the lives of poor people at risk