As usual, the US election is being described as a choice between Armageddon and Götterdämmerung. But in all likelihood, whether it’s Barack Obama or Mitt Romney who makes a victory speech next Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning will be business as usual for Americans. They are blessed to live in a stable and tolerant country.
The contrast between American law and order and the chaos of everyday life elsewhere is evident in stories about organ trafficking. In the US, admittedly, this is a real possibility: an Israeli man was sentenced to jail earlier this year for organising illegal organ transplants in New Jersey. But in other countries, allegations of organ theft are being used as virulent political propaganda. Some are more plausible than others.
* Serbia has accused Kosovar soldiers of removing organs from Serbian prisoners of war and selling them on the black market in the 1990s. It even claims that the current Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci was involved. There may be something in this and the EU is investigating.
* The Falun Gong, a religious group banned by the Chinese government, alleges that its members are being arrested and executed and that their organs are stolen.
* The Armenian media is exploiting reports from its hostile neighbour Azerbaijan that Azeri military units were trafficking in their own soliders’ organs.
* The Iranian media (which supports the Assad regime) has reported that Syrian rebels are abducting civilians and soldiers from government-controlled areas, killing them and removing kidneys, eyes and livers.
* In 2010 Sweden’s leading daily newspaper, Aftonbladet, alleged that Palestinians were being killed for their organs. It turned out that there was at least some justification for this, as organs were removed without consent from both Israelis and Palestinians by forensic specialists in the 1990s.
It is almost impossible to assess the truth of most of these claims. They are reported in languages that I do not know and they happened (allegedly) thousands of miles away. I know little about the poisonous politics behind the claims. Perhaps from the comfort of Sydney, or New York, or London, they seem preposterous. But in an atmosphere poisoned by xenophobia, no atrocity seems too far-fetched. Back in the First World War, the British media reported that German soldiers were bayoneting Belgian babies.
Perhaps, however, this visceral fear of body snatching will remind transplant surgeons that they must be seen to operate with the utmost rectitude and remind the rest of us not to believe all of the lurid headlines.
Organ theft: potent political propaganda.
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