Posts for category ‘crime’

Bones behind the Morgue
| April 7, 2007 | 12:24 am

I’ve been in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for the last week and a half doing research on a book. You are going to have to wait a little before I give you the plot summary, but suffice it to say that I’m hanging out in a lot of morgues and Buddhist temples. I’ve also been hijacked by the New York Times and National Geographic (television) to work on a couple stories so I haven’t had a lot of time to post. Until now.

I have a single tantalizing find that I came across while snooping around behind the postmortem lab at the Gaya Medical College. Around the area there are hundreds of scraps of clothing that the doctors removed from their patients during autopsies and I wondered if perhaps there were other relics of their patients lying about. Directly to the rear of the lab I came across an open-pit well that had been partially sealed, but had a hole cut into the top for people to throw things in. I took a peek inside and saw the remains of at least one human body and articles of clothing from several people. I have no doubt that if I rooted around I would have found dozens of corpses. This immediately brought to my mind the Ratlam fetal bones incident a month ago where the remains of up to 80 infants were discovered behind a hospital mortuary.

I am not sure what the laws are pertaining to disposal of human remains in India, but I am fairly sure that the only people who are discarded like scraps of clothing behind a hospital would be powerless villagers and low-caste people who have no one to advocate for their rights. I told a dalit activist I know in Varanasii about it and he said he was going to look into the incident.

What this also leads me to believe is that discarded human remains are probably a lot more common than one would think behind hospitals in India. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that if you poked around your local government hospital long enough you would have a good chance of seeing similar things.

Photos: The first image is the front door of the postmortem lab at the Gaya Medical College in Gaya, Bihar. The second image is a bit difficult to decipher but if you click on it and blow it up you can clearly see what I believe to be a femur and part of a human pelvis that I found in behind the lab in an open well.

Suspect Surgeons Advise Tamil Nadu Organ Transplant Future; Get Government Nod
| March 2, 2007 | 10:18 am
Health Minister KKSSR Ramachandran

This afternoon I attended a meeting held by the government of Tamil Nadu that was meant to be the beginning of an official response to the kidney racket. In the last thirteen years thousands of kidney have been sold on the black market with the tacit approval of the ethics board that is charged with monitoring organ transplants. A month ago I wrote a story for Wired News where a member of the ethics committee admitted to knowingly authorizing illegal transplants through brokers.

The meeting today was meant to be a step forward out of a ethical murkiness of organ transplants and call together a wide array of doctors, NGO-wallas and ethical savants for their opinions on live-donor transplants and the solutions that might lie ahead. But intentions are not everything.

“The kidney rackets have been operating in this community for a long time. . .90% of the donors we know about come from below the poverty line, and 90% of those donate for money,” said V.K. Subburaj Deputy Secretary of Health and Family Welfare during his inaugural address.

From a statement like that it would follow that the attendees charged with formulating Tamil Nadu’s future policy would decide to get tough on organ donations and look for positive solutions through cadavers.

Yet when K.K.S.S.R. Ramachandran, the minister of health, asked for people to introduce themselves from the audience, it soon became apparent that the agenda for the meeting was actually being set by the kidney brokers. Just about all of the doctors who came are currently under investigation by the police for assisting in illegal kidney transplants. Representatives from hospitals in Madurai, Coiambatore, Chennai and Trichy that have all been outed in the media for working closely with brokers sat self-satisfied in their easy chairs waiting for their chance to influence policy.

The most obvious among them was Dr. K.C. Reddy of Devaki Hospital–who allowed a broker named Dhanalakshmi to operate for years outside his hospital and in the past has been a vocal proponent of live-donor donations. He was practically jovial. Though he wouldn’t say a word to me.

When the opening remarks were over the press was kicked out and the doctors began to discuss their recommendations in private.

It was like putting the inmates in charge of the prison. The very people who were implicated in creating the organ racket in the first place were allowed to chart the course for the future. Allowed to set the clock backwards and make it seem like all their illegal actions over the last dozen years were actually for the best.

So it was no shock when the results came in and the doctors had reached a consensus that 1) Live unrelated donor transplants should be legal and that people should be allowed to buy and sell kidneys on the market. 2) Foreigners should be allowed to buy organs in India, but need to seek approval from the committee 3) All of the committee’s authorization decisions should be final and not open to appeal 4) Members of the ethics board in charge of overseeing that the system is not abused cannot be held accountable for coercion between brokers over donors or forged documents. And, to put it in the speakers own words, “should not be harassed by the police or press”.

So lets just throw transparency out the window and start an open-air-organ bazaar in Nungabakkam why don’t we. If the committee’s statements get taken up by the government (which is a real possibility) then we can look forward to thousands of completely above the board organ thefts. There were no stipulations to properly look after the rights of the people donating kidneys (except for one proposal for 5-10 years of free health insurance) and no mention of brokers at all.

But some people, thankfully, were not completely taken in by the committee’s organ mafia. V.K. Subburaj said that there was still need for further debate, and that cadaver donations were still the only real option. The same went for members of the MOHAN Foundation, who have organized 200 cadaver donations in the last three years.

To top it off, no people from the press were permitted to ask questions or attend the closed door sessions with the gang of doctor-criminals discussing how to divide the spoils if the laws change.

At this point it is in the hands of K.K.S.S.R Ramachandran ,the health minister, a DMK appointee who’s claim to the ministerhood seems to rely on his loyalty to the party and an incident in his past when he was burned by acid during a political rally. I don’t know much about Ramachandran except that he has endorsed cadaver programs in the past and that he doesn’t speak much English. Though one quote that he said during the meeting (which was translated for me) ran a chill though my veins:

“If there was a situation today where I needed a kidney I am sure that my son wouldn’t offer up his own, instead he would say that he would pay any price for one.”

And the price today is the blood of the poor.

Before he left a reporter from the Hindu asked if he would prosecute hospitals that had preformed illegal transplants. He said he would when the investigation turned up evidence. So far, it seems, he hasn’t looked very hard.

Foetal Bones in Ratlam Probably Not Foetal
| February 18, 2007 | 2:22 am

Newspaper and TV reports around India are reporting that 400 bones found in a pit behind a hospital in Ratlam are probably the remains of aborted fetuses. Yet the photos of the bones seem to indicate that the bones that were recovered came from children or full-grown adults–further clouding the mystery. Is this a case of infanticide, murder, or just clumsy disposal of human remains. Take a look at the bones that the man in the red shirt is holding. I’m not a forensic anthropologist, but it looks like the big one in the middle either came from the world’s largest fetus, or is an adult tibia.

RATLAM, Feb. 17 (UPI) — Local authorities following a tip have found bones and skeletal remains of newborn babies and fetuses at a hospital in the Indian city of Ratlam. Experts identified up to four fetuses among the remains found Saturday at Christian Hospital in Ratlam, prompting discussions of possible abortions taking place, the Press Trust of India said. “The thickness of skulls and bones indicates that the remains were of around three to four neonates or fetuses,” district Vaccination Officer RG Kaushal said.

And look at these photos. The bones in the picture look pretty well formed, not the mostly-cartilidge stuff that infants are made out of for a a few months before their bodies begin to harden. Either the on-site anthropologist forgot forensics 101, or he didn’t actually take any time to look at the remains.