Murder and kidney commerce

Published : Jun 22, 2002 00:00 IST

The first reported case of murder of a kidney 'donor' for monetary gain comes to light in Karnataka.

THE practice of paid organ transplants is illegal in most parts of the world because it is inherently exploitative and feeds on the economic and social vulnerability of the poor and the unempowered. In an unequal world, however, paid organ donation remains a worldwide phenomenon, and thrives in societies like India, where poor and gullible citizens become easy victims of a cruel commerce in body parts, kidneys in particular. One of the strongest arguments against paid organ donation is that it devalues human life. If unchecked, it will lead, as unbridled commerce inevitably does, to physical violence against, and perhaps even murders of, those who are its victims.

Campaigners against the kidney trade have long warned of the real possibility of murders-for-gain in the sordid world of organ commerce. Their worst fears have now been substantiated. The first reported case of murder of a kidney donor for monetary gain by kidney agents, the middlemen in the kidney trade, has come to light in Karnataka, a State where a recorded 982 cases of cash-for-kidney transactions have taken place between January 1995 and May 2002. Although the murder was committed in January 1999, the case was made public only recently after it was brought to the attention of Dr. H. Sudarshan, Vigilance Director of the Karnataka Lokayukta, and also Chairman, Task Force on Health and Family Welfare, Government of Karnataka. "Till now we thought that organ trading took place only for the monetary exploitation of the poor. Now we are convinced that this can also lead to murders of the poor," Dr. Sudarshan told Frontline. "It is this new dimension that we need to investigate now."

According to the information with the Ramanagaram district police, Shivanna, a 30-year old autorickshaw driver, from the village of Manmaranahalli, around 40 km from Bangalore, was approached by Gangadharaiah, a kidney agent, who offered him Rs.45,000 for his kidney. Shivanna was addicted to alcohol, on account of which his wife had left him nine years earlier. He accepted the offer, despite strong discouragement from his sister Chikkamani, as he wanted to buy his own autorickshaw. Shivanna, suitably tutored by Gangadharaiah, appeared before the Karnataka Authorisation Committee on January 6, 1999, along with the prospective recipient of his kidney, 28-year-old K.P. Madhavi, resident of Chandra Layout, Bangalore. The statements in their joint application to the Authorisation Committee were patently false. They claimed that Shivanna was a watchman in Madhavi's apartment, and that his wife was her household servant. A fake photograph of his wife was affixed on a forged affidavit purported to have been written by his wife. The Authorisation Committee passed the case, despite the fact that Madhavi was appearing before them for the second time, and with a different donor. She had appeared before the Committee in April 1998, with a donor who subsequently backed out of the deal. The fact that she could find another donor who was prepared to donate a kidney out of special 'attachment' or 'affection' for her so quickly after the first donor backed off, did not raise any suspicions in the Committee.

Shivanna was admitted to Lakeside Medical Centre and Hospital on January 21, and his kidney removed the next day. The operation was performed by Dr. S. Sundar, Director and Chief Nephrologist at the Karnataka Nephrology and Transplant Institute at Lakeside Hospital. The donor was discharged five days later on January 27. A key witness to the exchange of Rs.45,000 between Gangadharaiah and Shivanna was Krishnaiah, a former kidney donor from the same village as Shivanna. The police case is that after he was discharged, Shivanna was taken to Byramangala village (near Bidadi town) by Gangadharaiah and his wife Yashodamma. There they took the Rs.45,000 back from him and got an acquaintance, Chennappa, to kill him in return for a payment of Rs.5,000. The murder was committed on January 28 or 29, according to the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the police. Shivanna's stabbed body was found floating in a tank by the police on January 30. An FIR was filed by the police in the Bidadi Police Station on January 31. It named three accused, Gangadharaiah, Yashodamma and Chennappa. A day later the body was identified by Shivanna's sister who had come to the police station in search of her brother.

The sordid case came to light when the Public Prosecutor in the case, S.P. Anne Gowda, contacted Dr. Sudarshan for Shivanna's case file submitted before the Authorisation Committee. The case (No. SC 295/99), is currently in the First Additional Sessions Court, Bangalore Rural District before Judge P. Krishnabhat. "We filed the chargesheet in this case in 1999 and have got at least 29 witnesses for different facets of the case," Anne Gowda told Frontline. "We are currently investigating another case in Bangalore city where we believe a kidney donor was murdered for monetary gain." Neither the doctor who performed the surgery, nor any other representative from the hospital, figures among the 29 witnesses who gave evidence in Shivanna's case.

Young Shivanna's murder has revealed a new dimension to the kidney trade, one that needs to be investigated with greater purpose. Campaigners against paid organ donations have long argued that one of the biggest problems associated with the practice is the lack of information on donors after they donate their kidneys. In most instances, Shivanna's included, the donor gives a false address before the Authorisation Committee. Once the money is paid them, donors return to the anonymity of their previous lives. In this case, had a diligent Public Prosecutor not approached the Lokayukta, the links between a young man's murder and the kidney trade may not have come to public knowledge.

Are there others who have lost their lives to the brutal demands of the kidney trade? More than anything else, this case brings to the fore the compelling need for diligent monitoring of the condition of donors by the administrative apparatus set up under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994. Over the long term, legal and administrative reform of the organ donation scenario alone can stamp out paid organ donation, the breeding ground of the sort of crime that Shivanna fell a victim to.

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