Sunday, June 26, 2011

The organ trade: 10 % of organ transplants now fully commercial

Susanne Lundin is Professor of Ethnology at Lund University, Sweden. This commentary of hers appeared in Daily News Egypt ...

The great organ bazaar by Susan Lundin.

LUND, SWEDEN: The Web site Philippines is an active online portal that allows service providers and consumers to find and interact with each other. Naoval, an Indonesian man with “AB blood type, no drugs and no alcohol,” wants to sell his kidney. Another man says, “I am a Filipino. I am willing to sell my kidney for my wife. She has breast cancer and I can’t afford her medications.” Then there is Enrique, who is “willing to donate my kidney for an exchange. 21 years old and healthy.”

Other offers of this type could, just a few years ago, be found at, which promised kidneys for $80,000-$110,000. The costs of the operation, including the fees of the surgeons — licensed in the United States, Great Britain, or the Philippines — would be included in the price.

All of this internet activity is but the tip of the iceberg of a new and growing global human-tissue economy. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that about 10 percent of organ transplants around the world stem from purely commercial transactions.

Trade in organs follows a clear, geographically linked pattern: people from rich countries buy the organs, and people in poor countries sell them. In my research on organ trafficking, I have entered some of these shadow markets, where body parts from the poor, war victims, and prisoners are commodities, bought or stolen for transplant into affluent ill people.

One woman, originally from Lebanon, told me that a wealthy businessman from Spain paid a huge sum for her kidney. In the end, however, she received no monetary payment. Today, her life is much worse than before, because medical complications following the operation make it difficult for her to work. Similar stories are told by organ vendors I have met from the former Soviet states, the Middle East, and Asia.

Organ trafficking depends on several factors. One is people in distress. They are economically or socially disadvantaged, or live in war-torn societies with prevalent crime and a thriving black market. On the demand side are people who are in danger of dying unless they receive an organ transplant. Additionally, there are organ brokers who arrange the deals between sellers and buyers.

It is also necessary to have access to well-equipped clinics and medical staff. Such clinics can be found in many countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Ukraine, South Africa, and the Philippines.

Indeed, the Philippines is well known as a center of the illegal organ trade and a “hot spot” for transplant tourism. From the 1990s until 2008 (when a new policy was adopted), the number of transplantations involving organ sales by Filipinos to foreign recipients increased steadily. Many organ sellers from Israel, for example, were, together with their buyers, brought to Manila for the transplants.

Hector is one of the several hundred cases of kidney vendors documented by social workers in three impoverished towns in the Philippines’ Quezon province. His brother was trapped in Malaysia with high debts to criminal gangs, so Hector sold his kidney in order to buy his freedom. Another vendor, Michel, became a broker himself; after selling one of his kidneys to pay for his father’s medicines, the surgeon forced him to deliver more organs. The vendors’ organs were transplanted to recipients mainly from the Philippines, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia...

A trade that probably cannot be effectively banned, but can certainly be taxed and regulated.

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