Its rare to find a person who hasn’t heard of the urban legend recounting some poor guy duped into a situation that leaves him awakening in a tub of ice with a message indicating he must call 911 as one of his kidneys has been taken. While that particular story is not true, sadly it is based on some very real and shocking truths about organ trafficking. The unbalanced system of too many people in need of organ transplants and high levels of poverty worldwide have contributed to create a situation that leaves many desperate people willing to do anything to sell or receive illegal organs. Read below to learn ten shocking facts about organ trafficking.
- People seized against their will. According to a book by UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, members of the Kosovo Liberation Army seized hundreds of people for involuntary organ harvesting. The organs were then flown to foreign clinics for transplantation. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders have denied these allegations.
- Organs harvested from children. An investigation was started in Mosambique after several local human rights groups and the Brazilian Mission in Nampula notified authorities that many children were missing vital organs, with several of the children believed to have died as a result of the harvesting. Most of the harvested organs are believed to be sent to nearby South Africa for both transplant and religious rites. There have also been reports of children being kidnapped and killed for their organs in South America.
- Outrageous price of kidneys. 2003 estimates from the World Health Organization believe that the price of a trafficked kidney ranges from $700 in South Africa to over $30,000 in the US, with many other countries paying between $1,000 and $10,000 for a kidney. Recent news reports surrounding the corruption scandal in New Jersey indicate that a broker was asking $160,000 for a kidney, unknowingly to an undercover FBI agent.
- Sellers denied money and care. Many of the black market kidneys sold worldwide are done so by poor and vulnerable people in desperate need of money. They are typically paid only a fraction of the amount for which they are sold, and sometimes are denied payment by unscrupulous brokers and receive poor or no medical care for their recovery. These donors are often left debilitated by the lack of care, often not fully recovering from the donation. Sometimes entire villages have given their kidneys, like Villivakkum in India that is sometimes referred to as "Kidneyvakkum."
- Go in for an exam, leave without a kidney. In Egypt, one method of organ trafficking revolved around a hiring scheme. Young men were hired for a job and sent to a physician for an exam to ensure their good health. The young men would awaken in a hospital in pain and missing a kidney. Victims of this scheme have faced threats of violence when they have filed charges against those who perpetrated the crime.
- Detained and executed for organs. China has been under scrutiny for several years for detaining members of dissident groups in China, executing them, and selling their organs. One American paid $100,000 for a liver to keep his mother alive only to discover that his transaction with a man in Shanghai was likely a part of this Chinese racket that included using a religious group to help facilitate the sale of the liver.
- Only legal in one country. Despite the high numbers and rampant disregard for the law, organ trafficking is illegal in all but one country around the world. In Iran, organ sales are legal and closely monitored. The practice of legal organ transactions has eliminated the waiting list for those awaiting a kidney and has provided an increase in post-mortem organ donations, which are not remunerated in Iran.
- American rabbis selling organs. Earlier this year, five prominent rabbis in New Jersey were arrested for money laundering and trafficking organs. The rabbis allegedly convinced Israelis to sell their kidneys for $10,000 and then charged up to $160,000 for the kidneys to those in need. The rabbis stated their money came from other sources, with one man claiming the money came from the "diamond business."
- Babies auctioned for organs. Three Ukrainian women were arrested in Italy after auctioning off the unborn child of one of the women. The baby’s mother sold her unborn child for $350,000 euros (about $500,000 US dollars) to undercover officers who posed as drug runners looking for a baby for its organs. The officials believe the gang of women had performed the same transaction with other babies, sometimes selling them for illegal adoptions and sometimes for their organs.
- Transplant tourism. Taking advantage of countries that have nebulous definitions of brain-death and often don’t enforce organ trafficking laws, those in need of organs will often travel to places such as Israel, India, and eastern European countries to purchase organs illegally. In South Africa, those arriving for transplant tourism often receive their transplants in hospitals that are more akin to luxury hotels than transplant centers.
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