09/12/2022, 15.15
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Provocative ad touting organ sale in exchange for a new iPhone sparks criticism in Thailand

by Steve Suwannarat

The image went viral in the South-East Asian country. Doctors have expressed concern that people might actually do it. The extent of organ trafficking in South-East Asia is unknown.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Selling a human organ to buy the latest iPhone model is the provocative image posted by a beauty clinic in Laos.

The picture shows three young people holding a smartphone of a well-known brand with dressings oozing blood suggesting organ removal (see picture).

Since Saturday, the picture has gone viral in Thailand with some amused by it while others, critical, fear  people might actually go through with such trade.

Recently, in Thailand the idea of bartering a vital organ for money to purchase luxury goods or get cosmetic surgery is marking inroads. Some experts estimate that a kidney could fetch up to US$ 30,000.

In such a case, organ donations are not motivated by the necessity to earn money to survive or provide one’s family with what they need to live, but rather on a desire to show off and obtain objects to enhance one’s status symbol.

Dr Sophon Mekhton, director of the Thai Red Cross Society Organ Donation Centre, warns that such an operation comes with great risks, including criminal charges; in his view, promoting organ trading is not only “misleading” but also "immoral and unethical”.

Yet, advance iPhone 14 sales seem to have rekindled both interest and concern at a time when the country is still reeling from the economic and social crises triggered by COVID-19.

In such a climate, organised crime can profitably operate, and organ trafficking is still going strong in Thailand.

The country is in fact used for transit, as an operational base for specialised criminal organisations, as well as a hub for donors, many from neighbouring countries such as Cambodia.

Although Thai law prohibits donation except between relatives and on an altruistic basis, several cases show that an illegal market exists in which Thai and foreign facilities are used to take advantage of the needs created by the pandemic and ever-increasing demand.

What is more, removal and donation do not always take place voluntarily. As indicated in a 2020 report on trafficking in human beings by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Thailand is increasingly exposed to organ harvesting from victims of human trafficking.

Last month, at a regional coordination meeting, UNODC highlighted the issue once again. But the true extent of the phenomenon, warns the UN agency, is not reflected in the statistics and could be much greater than reported.

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