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What Is Organ Trafficking?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 30 June 2014
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Organ trafficking is the practice of selling organs for transplant. There are both legal and illegal forms of organ trafficking, typically in which living individuals undergo removal of an organ that is then sold to be transplanted into someone else. While organ trafficking may involve the transfer of organs between willing donors who volunteered for the process, there is some evidence that not all donors actually volunteer their organs, are capable of giving informed consent, or are compensated appropriately. Furthermore, some concerned investigators and activists believe that various middlemen may be profiting significantly from the sale of organs.

Significant advances in medicine have made it easier and safer to transplant organs. While it used to be that organ recipients often needed to be related to their donors in order to reduce the chance of rejection, new innovations in anti-rejection drugs have made it so people can safely receive organs from strangers. As a result, efforts to recruit organ donors have increased considerably over the years. While as of 2011 it is legal in some countries, such as Iran, to sell an organ, many countries have made it illegal to do so. The restriction on selling organs may apply to organs harvested from both living and dead donors. As a result, patients in need of an organ transplant have to rely on organs harvested from those who are dead or from volunteers who are willing to undergo major surgery and the loss of vital organ without any form of compensation.

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The desperation of some patients and their families means that they may be willing to pay a significant amount of money for a healthy organ. Some individuals network to try and match potential donors with patients who are in need of organ donation. These individuals may operate in developing countries where equally desperate people are willing to sell their organs with little consideration of the effect that the operation may have on their health and where any monetary compensation they receive is insignificant compared to that earned by other participants in the donor-recipient matching process.

Many government and medical officials are suspicious of some of the more dramatic tales of organ trafficking that may include the involuntary removal of organs from some donors. Some journalists and activists are examining the possibility of illegal organ trafficking rings, including those that may target some individuals for involuntary organ harvesting. Some surgeons have signed a document known as the Declaration of Istanbul, which condemns organ trafficking and profiteering.

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Discuss this Article

everetra
Post 4

@hamje32 - It’s all about supply and demand, really, as cold as that sounds. I don’t have organ trafficking statistics on hand but I have heard stories of poor people in developing countries willing to sell a kidney for a high sum of money.

There are middlemen of course and they pocket a big commission for making the sale on behalf of the recipient. Sometimes the recipients are wealthy and can afford to pony up, whereas the poor donor may settle for a modest sum for his contribution. That’s sad, but that’s just the way it is in some parts of the world.

hamje32
Post 3

@miriam98 - When I got my driver’s license I was asked if I would be willing to donate my organs to medical science. I said no. Frankly I don’t know what this has to do with an application for a driver’s license.

At any rate the whole thing seemed too gruesome to me, even in my death. But upon reading the stories of so many people who need organ transplantation, I might be willing to reconsider it.

I am especially moved too when I hear of stories about the illegal trafficking, although as the article points out I think you should take some of these stories with a grain of salt.

miriam98
Post 2

@allenJo - I’ve never heard that. I can’t say one way or another if it’s true, but slave trafficking is certainly alive and well in some parts of the world, so I guess it wouldn’t surprise me if it were.

The fact is, however, organ transplantation is a legal medical procedure so I don’t see why you wouldn’t go through the regular channels to get a new organ. My only guess is that some people can’t afford it and so would be willing to go the black market route.

But this is one area where you can’t put money above principle. Unsrupulous operators care little about issues like whether your body will reject the donor organ; they just want to pocket their profit. So I advise anyone in need of an organ transplant to go through the standard channels.

allenJo
Post 1

I hate to say it but I’ve heard horror stories about the egregious practice of black market organs for sale. I don’t know what country it was, but I heard that in one place some people would be captured and have their organs removed while they were still alive.

That’s a ghastly ordeal, and of course the victims die shortly thereafter, but it’s a horrifying and gruesome death. It pains me to think that some people are so greedy for money that they would stoop so low as to carve out other people’s organs for a quick buck.

I think these people have no conscience, and if they are caught they should put away for life, at the very minimum.

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