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How to Buy a Human Kidney

Bizarre, Money, NakedLaw

Need a kidney? Good luck. The average waiting time for a kidney is 1,121 days, and around 4,500 people die every year waiting for a kidney. Currently around over 78,000 Americans are waiting for kidneys.  The number of deaths while waiting are expected to become much worse in the coming years as baby boomers age.

Desperate for help, some patients are flying all over the world to buy kidneys from living donors. It’s a gamble, and the kidney one buys might not work out. But when you know you’re going to get worse and you’re tired of sitting around waiting while you’re miserable and sick, well…desperate times call for desperate measures.

Just ask Mark Schofield.

A couple of years ago, the 43 year old flew out to the Philippines with £40,000 in hopes of finding a poverty stricken Filipino who could use the money from selling a kidney. Simply put, Schofield is what’s known as a “transplant tourist.”

Welcome to One Kidney Island

It’s no coincidence that Mr. Schofield went to the Philippines to purchase his kidney. He’s just one of many transplant tourists who visits the poor island to purchase organs from living donors. That’s why the Philippines has earned the nickname “One Kidney Island.”

As The Daily Mail describes it:

“They stand in line in the stinking slums, their shirts lifted and arms raised to reveal the 13-inch long scars carved into their sides.

Poor, desperate and mutilated – these are the human victims of the profitable trade in kidneys in the Philippines.

For a cash payment of £1,000 – a fantastic amount in a country where 15million people earn a dollar a day – each of these “volunteers” has donated an organ to a wealthy foreigner.”

It’s unknown how many donors die during surgery or from infections weeks later, but given the destitute, unsterile conditions many of the donors live in, it’s safe to assume that not all kidney donors have the chance to spend their earnings.

Other Countries Where You Can Buy A Kidney

While the Philippines is the most notorious kidney market, there are many other nations where the organ trade is very easy to find. These include:

  • Brazil
  • Pakistan
  • India
  • South Africa
  • Turkey
  • America

Yes, you read that right: America. While most kidneys are purchased overseas, with the right connections you absolutely can buy a kidney right here in the good old USA. Of course, it’s highly illegal and can probably land you in prison, but it’s still being done nonetheless.  As you may recall from last year’s New Jersey sting operation that arrested two mayors and a few Rabbis, a human kidney broker was also arrested.  The broker was arranging for Americans to buy kidneys for $160,000 a pop.

Exploiting Poor Donors

You may have noticed there’s a huge discrepancy between what Mr. Schofield paid for his kidney (£40,000) and what donors earn for their organ (£1,000). Needless to say, this reeks of exploitation. The donor who is putting his life on the line to give up a kidney earns just 2.5% of the kidney’s selling price.

Global Organ Black Market Meets Two Pressing Needs

Despite the exploitation of donors and the dangers recipients face, the simple truth is the global organ black market is alive and well. And it’s constantly growing because it meets the needs of both people it serves.

  • Donors are very poor, and despite the small percentage they earn, this is still typically the equivalent of several years’ pay for them.
  • Recipients face death if they don’t get a kidney transplant fast. Buying a kidney on the black market could save and extend their lives.

Not all markets are in the private sector

In China, unlike in other countries where organ deals are purely private sector black markets, the government plays a gruesome role.  In a 2001 Village Voice article, an America doctor spoke about the many Chinese American patients he sees who have received organs from executed Chinese prisoners.  Many of these prisoners are executed for nonviolent offenses and have questionable due process rights.  Since then, the situation has apparently not gotten any better — according to a 2006 Daily Mail article, 95% of organs transplanted in China come from executed prisoners, and British citizens often buy them for around $100,000.

Organ selling law

In the United States the The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, co sponsored by Al Gore, outlawed the sale of human organs.  However, there are some gray areas.  For example, in the case of non-living donors, organ procurement agencies often cover the funeral expenses of donors, which some say is equivalent to bribing the family. In the case of living donors, often donors are paid for their “expenses” incidental to donation.  In either case, there is temptation and opportunity to bend the law.

Not Enough Donors

Regardless of what you think about the ethics of buying and selling kidneys and other organs, the simple truth is there just aren’t enough donors to go around. Every year, thousands continue to wait for a new kidney because there aren’t many volunteers willing to part with their kidney. Several options have been proposed for years, ranging from tax credits to automatic opt in policies, but none has worked.

What do you think? Should people be allowed to sell their kidneys?