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Nurses are suing the AGF and several others over the new guidelines for certificate verification.

Illegal Organ Harvesting: Ending the Source of ‘Blood Money’ in Nigeria By Aishat M. Abisola 

Illegal organ harvesting is a crime that is well-known all over the world. It is one of the biggest ways of earning “blood money” and has caused the deaths of many unsuspecting and innocent people worldwide. In Nigeria, it is unfortunately a common crime as organs are often illegally harvested and sold to the highest bidders who in turn either use them to save the lives of their loved ones or for ritual purposes.

One of the most high-profile cases is that of Ike Ekweremadu, Nigeria’s former deputy senate president, who was convicted alongside his wife, and a doctor for conspiring to arrange the travel of a young man in his twenties to the UK for organ harvesting.

On the 23rd of March, 2023, Ekweremadu, his wife and the doctor were convicted of conspiring to exploit the man for his kidney, without his full consent. It was said that the victim was offered up to £7,000 and a job in exchange for travelling to the UK.

Ekweremadu’s daughter who has renal failure and needed the organ transplant was cleared of the charges and on the 5th of May, 2023, Ekweremadu was sentenced to nine years and eight months imprisonment while the doctor was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and Ekweremadu’s wife was sentenced to four years and six months imprisonment.

We have also had more evil cases in Nigeria in recent months where doctors remove the organs of patients for sale without their consent or knowledge. Patients go to hospitals for different kinds of complaints only to be operated upon and have their kidneys removed and these unscrupulous medical personnel sell these organs to the highest bidders.

The National Health Act of 2014 was created to prevent these situations from happening. The purpose of the said Act was to protect Nigerians from being treated as less than human.

According to section 53 of the National Health Act 2014, tissue, blood or bodily organs are not to be removed from a living person unless the individual has given their consent, in cases where medical investigations are needed, in emergencies and in accordance with health protocols. Tissue, blood and organs that are irreplaceable can not be taken from individuals less than 18 years of age nor can they be removed from a living being for commercial purposes.

The National Health Act states that anyone who fails to comply will be convicted. Illegal removal of tissue will result in a fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment of not less than two years or both and the illegal removal of blood or blood products results in a fine of N 100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both.

In section 52 of the NHA Act, an individual can only use removed tissue or blood/blood product withdrawn from a living person solely for medical or dental purposes. Failure to comply with the provisions of this section will result in a fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment of not less than two years or both for removed tissue and a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both for the removal of blood/blood products.

Section 52 also states that an individual cannot manipulate any genetic material, including genetic material of human gametes, zygotes or embryos, import or export human zygotes or embryos, engage in any activity such as including nuclear transfer or embryo splitting for the purpose of cloning a human being. Failure to comply will result in imprisonment for a minimum of five years with no option of a fine.

Unless authorised in a hospital by officials or the medical practitioner in charge of clinical services, a person cannot remove a tissue from a living person or carry out the transplantation in another living person, of such tissue.

Read Also: Funds, Organ Shortage Impede Transplantation Industry Growth – TAN

As stated in this section, a medical practitioner is not allowed to be the lead participant in a transplant for which he has granted authorisation. Therefore, there shall be an independent tissue transplantation committee within any health establishment that engages in the act and practice of transplantation as prescribed.

Only a registered medical practitioner or dentist may remove any tissue from a living person, use the removed tissue for any of the purposes stated in the Act or transplant tissue that has been removed into another living person. Only registered medical practitioners, dentists or a person acting under the supervision or instructions of a medical practitioner or dentist can administer blood or a blood product to, or prescribe blood or a blood product for a living person.

It is illegal for an individual who has donated blood tissue, blood or a blood product to receive any form of financial or other rewards for such donation except for the reimbursement of reasonable costs incurred by him or her to provide such donation, and sell or trade-in tissue, blood, blood products except for reasonable payments made inappropriate health establishment for the procurement of tissues, blood or blood products.

Committing any of these offences will result in a fine of N 100,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.

Human organs that have been taken from deceased persons for the purpose of transplantation or treatment, or medical or dental training or research are only to be used in the prescribed manner. The National Tertiary Health Institutions Standards Committee is responsible for prescribing the criteria for the approval of organ transplant facilities and the procedural measures to be applied.

Failure to comply with this provision shall result in imprisonment for a minimum of five years without the option of a fine.

In the case where a person who is competent and wishes to donate their body or any specified tissue to be used after their death, or gives consent to the post-mortem examination of his or her body, they are to make a will that has been signed by them and at least two competent witnesses or make a written statement that was made in the presence of at least two competent witnesses. A person who makes the said donation can list an institution or a person as their recipient.

This type of donation under section 55 of the Act can only be made for the purpose of training students in health sciences, health research, advancement of health sciences, and therapy, including the use of tissue in any living person or the production of a therapeutic, diagnostic or prophylactic substance.

The Act does not apply in regards to the preparation of the body of a deceased person for the purposes of embalming it, whether or not such preparation involves making incisions in the body for the withdrawal of blood and the replacement by a preservative or the restoration of any disfigurement or mutilation of the body before its burial.

Prior to the removal of an organ for transplantation, the donor is allowed to revoke a donation in the same way in which it was made or in the case of a donation by way of a will or any other document. This includes the intentional revocation of that will or a codicil or any other document.

In the case of a post-mortem examination of a deceased body, it can only be conducted if:

Prior to their death, the individual gave their consent, the person, the spouse, child, parent, guardian, brother or sister of the deceased not below the age of 18 years in the specific order mentioned, gave consent or such an examination is needed to determine a cause of death.

This examination cannot take place unless the medical practitioner in charge of clinical services in the hospital or any authorised institution/ or of the mortuary in question has authorised the examination in writing or any other prescribed manner, or in the situation where there is no medical practitioner in charge of clinical services, a medical practitioner authorised by the person in charge of such hospital or the post mortem examination has not been authorised in writing or otherwise.

These policies were created to curb the prevalence of illegal organ harvesting in Nigeria. Though they have aided in catching organ traffickers who have faced the full wrath of the law, many other cases have gone unnoticed.

Regardless of the desperation of these evil doers, the faithful enforcement of these laws remains the stepping stone upon which illegal organ harvesting can be stopped once and for all.