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Journal of Transplantation
Volume 2012, Article ID 391936, 7 pages
Research Article

Cross-Border Quest: The Reality and Legality of Transplant Tourism

1Department of Internal Medicine, Section Transplantation, Erasmus Medical Centre, University Hospital, 's-Gravendijkwal 230, 3015 CE Rotterdam, The Netherlands
2Willem Pompe Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
3Criminology Department, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
4Department of Public Health, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Received 21 December 2011; Revised 16 February 2012; Accepted 16 February 2012

Academic Editor: Wojciech Rowiński

Copyright © 2012 Frederike Ambagtsheer et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Background. Transplant tourism is a phenomenon where patients travel abroad to purchase organs for transplants. This paper presents the results of a fieldwork study by describing the experiences of Dutch transplant professionals confronted by patients who allegedly purchased kidney transplants abroad. Second, it addresses the legal definition and prohibition of transplant tourism under national and international law. The final part addresses the legal implications of transplant tourism for patients and physicians. Methods. The study involved seventeen interviews among transplant physicians, transplant coordinators and policy-experts and a review of national and international legislation that prohibit transplant tourism. Results. All Dutch transplant centers are confronted with patients who undergo transplants abroad. The estimated total number is four per year. Transplant tourism is not explicitly defined under national and international law. While the purchase of organs is almost universally prohibited, transplant tourism is hardly punishable because national laws generally do not apply to crimes committed abroad. Moreover, the purchase of organs (abroad) is almost impossible to prove. Conclusions. Transplant tourism is a legally complex phenomenon that warrants closer research and dialogue. The legal rights and obligations of patients and physicians confronted with transplant tourism should be clarified.