Immigration Agents On Guard Against Sale Of Human Organs

Immigration agents on guard against sale of human organs

By Andrew Mayeda
The CanWest News Service, November 20, 2006

Ottawa — The federal government has developed internal guidelines to handle visa applications by people who wish to donate organs in Canada, newly released documents show.

Donation advocates say improved processing could save lives, but some immigration and medical ethics experts wonder if Citizenship and Immigration Canada is opening the door to organ trafficking.

'Im concerned about the volume (of such visa applications) and whether we have a process to ensure that Canada is not opening a market for Third-World organ donations,' said immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the guidelines through the Access to Information Act.

The guidelines are designed to help visa officers assess temporary-resident visa applications by individuals wishing to donate an organ to a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

Visa officers are advised to assess the applications on three main criteria.

* They must look for proof of 'medical compatibility' between donor and recipient.

* Visa officers must ensure 'satisfactory financial arrangements' have been made.

* Officers 'must be satisfied on a balance of probabilities that no sale of human organs is taking place.'

'The possibility of both exploitation and financial or other inducement namely trafficking of human organs must be carefully examined,' say the guidelines.

However, the guidelines appear to acknowledge a grey area in Canadian law regarding organ trafficking.

The sale or purchase of human organs is illegal in all provinces and territories. But because it is not technically a criminal offence, organ traffickers cannot be deemed criminally inadmissible to Canada.

Nevertheless, the guidelines advise visa officers that 'Canadas national interest is not best served by the issuance of a (temporary-resident permit) that facilities the illegal internal trade in human organs.'

Margaret Somerville, a 'bioethics' expert at McGill University, said there are cases in which admitting people exclusively to make organ donations would make sense, such as when the recipient is gravely ill and the donor is a close relative.

But she said the ethical implications become more disturbing when a wealthy organ recipient seeks the help of a donor from a poor country.

Granting visas to organ donors also raises the possibility that individuals would use organ donation as a pretext for entering the country, said Somerville.

The guidelines, which were developed in July 2005, are still in place, said Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson Melanie Carkner