Despite regulations restricting foreign access to organs donated by Colombians, 22 transplants of this type took place in the country this year due to patients filing law suits and forcing judge’s hands.
Colombia’s National Health Institute claimed that judges appear unaware of the specific country requirements, whereby priority is given to nationals and foreign residents in Colombia, reported newspaper El Tiempo on Friday.
“It is unacceptable that Colombia be a country where citizens die waiting for an organ, but when a foreigner arrives and obtains a court order, they are automatically registered onto a waiting list that hundreds of Colombians have been on for months and even years,” stated a transplant association representative Manuel Arboleda.
According to Arboleda, there are 20 thousand people on hemodialysis in Colombia. “There are so many obstacles that the health system imposes on people to access the kidney waiting list that there are only 617 people currently on that list. Of this total, only the minimun will receive an organ because donations are so low. Foreigners then arrive and claim constitutional rights, which is unjust,” explained Arboleda.
Colombian judges are allegedly applying a decree from 2004 which indicates that nonresident foreigners can access organs provided there are no nationals or foreign residents on any waiting list in the country. The judges are unable to protect the fundamental rights of a person because they must comply with these legal regulations.
Constitutional lawyer Juan Manuel Charry stated that the Constitutional Court must urgently clarify the scope of people’s rights with regard to organ donation and the health authorities must strengthen their position based on international declarations about the ‘transplant tourism’ phenomenon pervading Colombia.
According to the Director of the Health Institute, when the decree was established in 2004, 12% of those who benefitted from transplant operations in Colombia came from abroad and due to the limitations of the decree the number of ‘transplant tourists’ fell – leaving more availability to Colombian patients.
“In August 2009, we issued a report stating that with the number of Colombians currently on the transplant Waiting List … it is impossible to accept foreign, nonresident patients … yet the law suits continue,” declared the Director.
Colombia has signed international declarations such as the Mar del Plata (2005) which generate measures against ‘transplant tourism and travel’, which according to the UN, are forms of organ trafficking. Yet Colombia is still a popular destination for such operations.
This year, the majority of transplants on foreign nonresidents have taken place in Hospital Universitario San Vicente de Paul, in Medellin.
According to the hospital’s Secretary General Jorge Luis Jimenez Ramirez, when foreign nonresidents come to the hospital requesting information, doctors tell them that priority is given to nationals and foreign residents. The nonresidents then file a law suit and ask the hopsital why they are not allowed to join the Waiting List when their life depends on it. The hospital’s hands are tied when the law suit is filed and they are obliged to perform the transplants.
“When they come with a court order, what can we do? We put them on the waiting list and … perform the transplant,” argued Ramirez.
In conclusion, Ramirez explained that he does not endorse transplant tourism but he feels that people should not be discriminated against solely because they were not born in the country. Controversy continues.