The Missing Spleen Mystery or the Stone Age of our Organ Transplantation Service

FLB: According to the current legislation we all “consent unanimously” to be “taken apart for our organs”. A courtroom report.

On Tuesday, 4 June, the Moscow City Court panel of judges has reviewed the appeal against the ruling made by the Kuzminki District Court in Moscow filed by the family of Pavel Mardar who was killed in a traffic accident. The family sued the doctors for clandestine organ harvesting. Charges were filed against the Demikhov City Hospital, Botkin City Hospital, Moscow Organ Donor Coordination Centre, and Shumakov Transplantology Centre.


The background to this story starts in October 2017 when Pavel Mardar, a 21 year old male patient in a coma following a severe brain injury was brought to the Demikhov City Hospital. For five days his relatives stayed waiting at the doors of the intensive care unit. The intensive care doctors kept reassuring the family that there is hope for recovery.

Pavel died on day six. He was buried in his native country of Moldova. Two months later the family was shocked when they received a medical examiner’s report stating that the corpse came to the post-mortem without internal organs as the heart, kidneys, liver, and a fragment of the spleen were harvested for transplantation. So, as it turned out, while Pavel’s sister and brother took turns keeping vigil by the doors of the intensive care unit, the hospital employees were secretly extracting the corpse’s organs, having neither informed the family nor obtained their consent.

The family was told that the law “On Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues” has been in force in Russia since 1992. According to this law healthcare professionals are under no obligation to give notice on manipulations performed.

Pavel’s relatives filed charges of abuse, disrespect to private and family life, religious rights and the property rights to organs in the Kuzminki Moscow Court. They have also declared their intent to overturn the law “On Transplantation”.

In February the Court dismissed the case. The family filed an appeal in the Moscow City Court with a request to overturn the Kuzminki Court ruling and to satisfy the family’s claims.


The family’s attorney, Director of the Strategic Litigation Centre Dr Anton Burkov, and the representatives of the accused – the Demikhov and Botkin hospitals – were present at the hearing.

The panel asked the attorney to state the essence of the claims.

He explained that, in actual fact, no proper trial has been conducted by the court of first instance.

‘We have not been allowed to call the witnesses – the doctors who participated in organ harvesting – to the stand. But it would be of great interest to know what was happening exactly. Why didn’t they tell the family that Pavel is a potential donor, didn’t ask for their opinion? We were not allowed to see the deceased’s hospital record from which it would have been clear what organs were harvested, how many of them. During the hearing it was established that there were more organs harvested than later transferred to the transplant specialists (a part of the spleen had gone missing!). This fact, however, was ignored by the court. For some reason the proceedings were made a close hearing despite the fact that there was no discussion on any confidential doctor/patient information. The procedure turned into a mere formality and took just one hour.’

The attorney pointed out that the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is a part of the Russian legal system and in this case there is a direct violation of Article 3 that prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment and Article 8 that provides a right to private and family life. ‘The relatives should be notified on what is occurring with the body of the deceased’, Dr Burkov emphasised.

The Demikhov Hospital representative offered an opposing opinion. According to him, Article 8 of the law “On Transplantation” states the presumption of consent and does not oblige doctors to inform relatives.

‘All the organ extractions’, the healthcare professional explained, ‘have been conducted in compliance with the current regulations, namely the 2012 Healthcare Department Decree №946. There were no violations as far as the missing organs are concerned… The spleen is not normally used for transplantation, it is used for other purposes, and all the necessary paperwork was produced for the court.’


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