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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New law bans for-profit organ trade

A resident of Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district shows the scar on his side in 2014, where a kidney was surgically removed to be sold.
A resident of Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district shows the scar on his side in 2014, where a kidney was surgically removed to be sold. Heng Chivoan

New law bans for-profit organ trade

The National Assembly yesterday adopted a law banning commercial organ transplants in a bid to curb trafficking in the so-called “red market” trade, introducing heavy jail sentences for breaches.

The law, which also covers human cells and tissues, stipulates that any donation of human parts must be undertaken on a humanitarian basis – commercial motives and advertising such services are forbidden and carry jail sentences of up to 20 years.

The legislation’s passage comes two years after a seminal case of organ trafficking in the Kingdom in which Mot Hiriphin was convinced by a cousin that he could sell a kidney to pay off crippling family debt.

Hiriphin travelled to a Thailand hospital for surgery and received $4,200 for his kidney.

But lawmakers and law-enforcers yesterday acknowledged a “grey area” that would be difficult to regulate, in which poverty compels victims to give their organs to someone who – while not paying cash for the organ – might provide for the victim in other ways.

Read: Shopping on the red market

During debate on the legislation, lawmaker Lork Kheng drew attention to these murky areas while adding that the law was crucial to prevent trafficking and cross-border crime.

“Some volunteering is also related to trafficking, and there is persuasion from brokers … What I want to draw attention to is that doctors should please explain to the people, again and again, as our people’s understanding of health science is still limited,” she said.

“Even we don’t understand the consequences of donating kidneys.”

Quach Mengly, a Cambodian-American doctor, said he remained concerned that “some people with limited knowledge and a lack of budget could be led to exchange [an organ] for a living”.

Municipal Anti-Human Trafficking chief Keo Thea meanwhile said he welcomed having the force of the law behind him in cracking down on trafficking. “When we implement the law … the offenses will go down,” he said.

The law states that anyone who removes body parts without the consent of the victim faces a jail term of between seven and 15 years, while implanting cells, tissues or organs for a commercial purpose carries a 10- to 20-year sentence.

Advertising centred on the buying or selling human organs carries a sentence of between five and 10 years.

The law stipulates donors must be aged 19 or over, and cannot donate if they have a cognitive impairment.

The Ministry of Health is required to install a committee to oversee and grant permission to medical professionals who transplant organs, cells or tissues.

Yesterday’s session was not attended by CNRP lawmakers, who are boycotting the assembly pending criminal proceedings taken against their acting president, Kem Sokha.

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