It’s the cycle of life, but not as we know it. A Singaporean triad known as the “One-Eyed Dragon” is hanged after being convicted of murdering a nightclub boss and his kidney is donated to a local retail magnate who was so desperate for a transplant that he illegally tried to buy a kidney off an Indonesian man last year.
While Tang Wee Sung, whose family founded the up-market department store Tangs (Singapore’s answer to Selfridges), has not confirmed that he received a kidney from the executed gangster, the Straits Times and other local publications reported that before he was hanged, the “One-Eyed Dragon” specified that Tang be given one of his kidneys.
With Tang remaining silent on where his new kidney came from, bloggers are speculating as to its origins and how he managed to secure it.
It’s a story so fantastical that you could not make it up. Yet, at its heart lies a serious issue and one that has been the subject of much public debate in Singapore, after a number of high-profile organ trading cases came to light last year (including the one involving Tang).
With one of the most rapidly-aging populations in the world, the Singapore government’s response to the severe shortage of transplantable organs has been to legalise the payment of compensation to organ donors. This move is intended to allow altruistic donors to be compensated for their medical expenses and loss of earnings and is not meant to operate as an inducement.
However, with the upper limit for compensation still to be set, critics have pointed out that while S$50,000 (or £23,000 – which some observers believe would be a reasonable limit) may be viewed as just compensation by a Singaporean professional who has to take months of work, the same amount would be an inducement to many less well-off people both within Singapore and from neighbouring countries such as Malaysian and Indonesia.
While the discussion about whether or not to move to a free market in organs rumbles on, in the latest bizarre twist to the debate, Andy Ho, a senior journalist at the Straits Times, suggests today that Singapore should routinely “harvest” organs from convicts who are sentenced to death (something that the Chinese prison authorities have been accused of doing in the past, although they were supposedly doing it to line their own pockets rather than help society).
Ho goes on to explain how hanging is not conducive to organ donation because the body is deprived of oxygen, damaging vital organs such as the heart and the liver and making them unusable for transplant. Similarly, he points out that the drugs administered by lethal injection are designed to destroy the vital organs one-by-one and that the gas chamber and electric chair also render most organs untransplantable.
That leads him to suggest another option, which sounds like some dark, modern-day equivalent of being “hung, drawn and quartered”. “Capital punishment by organ removal under anaesthesia”, as he puts it, would allow all the organs to be removed in good working order but, presumably, doctors would face just a few ethical issues if they became executioners as well.
Ho’s solution to this quandary? Get the prison staff to administer anaesthetics to the death-row inmate in such a large dose that they are rendered “brain dead” and then let the transplant team move in. An innovative suggestion, perhaps, but I’m not sure how many doctors would be keen to get involved.
Read also Alex Au’s Yawning Bread: Independent investigation needed over Tang’s kidney transplant