Death row organ trade
DOZENS of Australians have travelled to Asia to buy organs, with up to seven receiving kidneys from prisoners executed in China.
At least three Victorians have had kidney transplants in China in recent years.
Two others from NSW and one patient each from South Australia and Queensland are believed to have received kidneys from executed Chinese prisoners.
The Victorians were operated on about 2001-03 and one patient returned to Melbourne with a hepatitis infection.
The Australian patients paid between $15,000 and $50,000 for the transplants.
Monash Medical Centre's Dr Ian Main said he was aware of six Victorians who had paid for kidney transplants in the Middle East, India and China.
"I believe one of the patients that I am aware of had that process (through an executed Chinese prisoner), but the patient themselves wasn't sure," Dr Main said.
"The patients are often reluctant to give details because they are aware that it is something that is frowned upon."
Dr Main said a blow-out in Australian waiting lists for kidneys, now about 1600 people, meant more people were willing to take their chances and pay for a kidney overseas.
But some of those who had surgery in Third World hospitals became seriously ill on return, suffering infections or other complications.
"I am aware of one patient who has a lethal virus as a consequence and I've seen two patients who are very sick," Dr Main said.
One Melbourne transplant surgeon said he had to remove a kidney transplanted into a Victorian in Iraq or Iran several years ago because the organ was not "plumbed" properly.
Another Melbourne specialist, Dr Shlomo Cohney, was aware of five or six Victorians who had paid for organs overseas in recent years.
Dr Cohney said some had returned with "wounds still open".
Monash Medical Centre transplant physician Dr John Kanellis said he had discouraged several Victorians from undergoing overseas transplants in the past year.
"Every (hospital kidney) unit has got their small number of people who do this, despite us discouraging it," Dr Kanellis said.
"There are people who have got away with it and are doing well . . . but I know of people that have done badly."
Most of the Chinese prisoner organs are taken at Chongqing military hospital, with the condemned prisoner being allowed to die under anaesthetic after the organs are removed rather than facing a firing squad.
Chinese officials have previously claimed some of the money paid by recipients is given to the family of the deceased and the organs can only be harvested with family and prisoner consent.
But Amnesty International has accused China, which executes 5000 or more prisoners a year, of taking organs without family knowledge.
Medical researchers have reviewed 16 NSW cases in which patients, aged 31 to 75, have bought organs in India, Iraq, Lebanon, China and the Philippines.
Five have since died.
Mark Cocks, director of support group Transplant Australia, said he had no ethical problem with commercial transplants because of the average four-year wait in Australia.
Mr Cocks arranged to pay $10,000 to an Indian family in the early 1990s for a kidney, but eventually received a matching transplant from his sister.
About 2000 Australians are listed as awaiting transplants, including 1600 for kidneys and a further 8000 undergoing dialysis.
Up to 20 per cent of those on the waiting list die before getting a replacement organ.
For more information about becoming an Australian donor, phone LifeGift, the Victorian Organ Donation Service, on 9349 4762 or visit the website