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  • Writer's pictureThe Pendulum

Organ Sales in the Black Market

Olivia Loew

Anyone who has visited the DMV has filled out a form that indicates whether or not they are an organ donor. Despite over 90% of adults in the United States supporting organ donation, only about half are registered as organ donors. There are currently 120,000 people waiting for an organ to become available, and every day eighteen people on the waiting list die. With such a limited number of organs available, some people turn to “Transplant Tourism,” or acquiring organs from the black market, in the hopes of extending their life.

Illegal organ trafficking relies heavily on organs obtained in developing countries. Lungs, kidneys, intestines, corneas, and other organs are all available. In some cases, people willingly sell their kidneys, or parts of organs, for less than 1000 USD. Middlemen then turn around, and sell the organs to wealthy buyers. Prices range, but kidneys commonly sell for 62,000 USD, and part of a liver sells for 50,000 USD. Targeted countries include Ukraine, Romania, Iran, India, Peru, Ecuador, among others. Organs that are illegally acquired are often sold to people in the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

Because transplant operations with trafficked organs rarely take place in a hospital, or with a certified doctor, complications and infections are particularly common, and very few black market organ donors and recipients go on to live healthy lives. “Donors” rarely make a full recovery, making life going forward exceptionally challenging. In Pakistan, selling organs was recently made illegal, but with so many families living below the poverty line, the black market continues to flourish. While these organ donors have the allusion of a choice, many victims of human trafficking have their organs forcibly removed. In some cases, these victims are killed so all of their organs may be harvested. The total financial value of someone’s recently harvested organs ranges between 500,000 USD to 2 million USD.

Advancements in medicine are constant, and scientists hope to find a viable substitute for organs, which are in limited supply. Until this technology is available, the black market will continue to thrive. Policy change is the most effective way to change this in affected countries. Selling organs is still legal in Iran. China, on the other hand, has seen a decrease in organ trafficking in recent years. Out of fear of Chinese doctors being blackballed from international medical conferences, the Chinese government made it illegal for any money to be exchanged for organs. Additionally, China has imposed strict penalties for doctors who knowingly perform surgery with illegally-acquired organs. Through this policy implementation and shift, the number of trafficked organs is estimated to have drastically decreased--giving hope that someday significant policy movement may lead to the end of organ trafficking.

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