Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group: Private Audience with Pope Francis

Hosted by the Mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino (center-left), DICG members, Mirela Bušic, Mehmet Haberal, Beatriz Domínguez-Gil and Francis Delmonico meet with Pope Francis in Vatican City.

On September 19th, 2014, Mirela Bušic, Beatriz Domínguez-Gil, Mehmet Haberal and Francis Delmonico representing the Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group (DICG) met with Pope Francis in Vatican City to ask of his endorsement of the principles of the Declaration of Istanbul in its fight against organ trafficking.


The private audience was hosted by Ignazio Marino, Mayor of Rome.

The DICG delegation constituted was to ensure international representation, and from countries with outstanding deceased donation rates (Croatia and Spain). Professor Haberal was to be acknowledged as a benefactor of DICG.

Background information submitted to Pope Francis included data that only 10% (100,000) of the needed 1 million transplants are performed each year. Poor people are selling their organs throughout the world, with brokers exploiting their destitution. Organ trafficking violates the principles of justice, equity and respect for human dignity. Six years ago (2008), professionals from all over the world came to Istanbul to write the Declaration of Istanbul, to combat organ trafficking and transplant tourism and commercialism. DICG’s mission is to curtail these practices and promote ethical donation and transplantation throughout the world.

Organ trafficking is continuing in at least China, South East Asia, Egypt, Pakistan, India, with recipients coming from Canada and US, Western European countries, Australia, and the Gulf countries. Organ trafficking has now made its way to Latin America. In the US, there is a movement to enable cash payments/benefits/college tuitions/tax credits/retirement benefits as a way of enticing the young to be compensated for their organs. DICG has opposed that direction and needed support of Pope Francis to ensure that the US Congress will not amend the law prohibiting organ commercialization. Financial incentives are to be distinguished from removing financial disincentives and rendering the donor at a monetary loss. Nevertheless, curtailing organ trafficking requires increasing organ availability and understanding donation as a gesture of social responsibility.

A seminal legal tool has just been adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe – a Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs. Wide support to this Convention will help national legislations to be aligned for prosecuting these illegal practices. Donation has been successfully developed in Croatia and Spain, based on a principle of community. DICG is now promoting the model of Croatia throughout South Eastern Europe.

Pope Francis concluded: “Organ trafficking and commercialization are immoral, ... and DICG is at liberty to convey this message on my behalf”

As a result of the private DICG audience the following recommendations were proposed: to retain the prohibition against financial gain for organ donation, including in the United States, since amending NOTA would not only be consequential to the US, but to the rest of the world; to support the recently adopted Council of Europe Convention against organ trafficking and to call for deceased organ donation by all cultures throughout the world. DICG has been invited to submit a background/reference document that Pope Francis will use in a pronouncement to be widely reported in 2015.