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Singapore cash-for-organs plan raises concern

AFP, March 24, 2009

SINGAPORE (AFP) Plans by Singapore to allow payments to living organ donors have run into opposition from some lawmakers who fear they may draw indebted foreign workers, according to press reports Tuesday.

One deputy, Halimah Yacob, said the large pool of unskilled foreign workers affected by the financial crisis may turn to donating organs to pay off debts they incurred to get jobs in this affluent city-state.

Under existing law it is illegal for a living donor to be given cash, but the Singapore government has proposed legislative amendments that would allow financial compensation to kidney donors.

The issue was debated Monday in parliament where Halimah, a ruling party lawmaker, said some foreign workers "will become a ready, vulnerable pool of organ donors to be exploited and abused."

"To a desperate foreign worker, even a reimbursement of 10,000 (Singapore) dollars (6,600 US) would be attractive compared to going home empty-handed with a huge debt waiting for him," she was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.

Another parliamentarian, Lam Pin Min, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that foreigners, including some from India and Pakistan, were already making inquiries on how they could sell their kidneys in Singapore.

Lam cautioned that Singapore might become known as a centre for "transplant tourism," saying an independent third party should be involved in negotiations on financial compensation for donors.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said banning compensation was "outdated and unfair."

"Many countries have already updated their legislation to provide for such reimbursements," Khaw told parliament, naming the United States.

Khaw said 26 people died here last year while waiting for a donor organ.

The Singapore government proposed changing the law after the city-state's first known organ-trading case, in which an ailing Singaporean retail magnate was caught trying to buy a kidney from an Indonesian.

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