Saturday, August 23, 2014

Illegal Human Organ Trafficking

It is illegal to sell or buy human organs in most countries. It is also against the principles of the Transplant Society and the International Society of Nephrology, whose joint Declaration of Istanbul states that organ trafficking and transplant tourism “ violate the principle of equity, justice, and respect for human dignity and should be prohibited.”

But where there’s money to be made, someone will try to make it. As the gap between the demand for kidneys and their supply (from cadavers or live donors) continues to widen, unscrupulous underground “businessmen” manage to bring desperate patients and willing sellers together, for money. If you can find one of these kidney brokers, the going price seems to be nearly $200,000 to buy a kidney, but less than $20,000 to sell one.

Kidney brokers are rarely caught and convicted, in part because they may not live on the same continent as the buyer and seller. So where exactly is the crime committed? Furthermore, brokers claim to enlist only altruistic donors who are not paid. They tell the potential buyer that the high price is to “cover expenses”. Donors are paid under the table and then coached to say that they are not doing it for money. No one really believes that, however, when the donor is from Costa Rica and the patient (a total stranger) is from Israel or the U.S. Desperate buyers are willing to turn a blind eye to the truth when their life is at stake. For a peek into this shadowy world, see the New York Times article on the subject or visit the Declaration of Istanbul website highlighted above.

Reasonable people have argued that the only way to eliminate the black market in human organs is to permit the buying and selling of organs, subject to controls to protect potential donors. They argue that thousands of lives could be saved every year. Whether buying/selling organs could be done without undue coercion of the poor is still an open question. At least one study in this country suggests that perhaps it could (this blog, April 26, 2010.) I’m not convinced, however, that the same results would hold in places where people are truly desperate, and not just below the average U.S. income. I’m reserving judgment on this idea for now.

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