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Transplant Ethics and the International Crime of Organ Trafficking

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Transplantation procedures have become increasingly sophisticated and nowadays offer unforeseen opportunities of survival to hundreds of thousands of patients. However, due to the global organ shortage, unethical practices like organ trafficking and transplant tourism have progressively emerged and spread worldwide, rapidly becoming a highly profitable business for transnational organised criminal groups. These practices represent a serious threat to public health and human security, egregious violations of fundamental human rights and a bold infringement of universal principles of medical ethics, and they thus call for a robust response from the international community at large. Being a complex and multifaceted phenomenon of global proportions, the major challenge in combating organ trafficking is to criminalise “all” unethical conducts as transplant-related crimes at both the domestic and international level. This article aims to offer a critical overview of the international legal instruments applicable in the field and to discuss the pivotal role that international criminal law can play in support of prescriptive bioethics in the global fight against organ trafficking.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor of International Law; Director, Observatory on Human Rights: Bioethics, Health, Environment, School of Law, University of Salerno, Salerno, Italy,


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