How Poverty Exacerbates Illegal Organ Trading

How Poverty Exacerbates Illegal Organ Trading
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for extremely poor families around the world to go through extreme measures in order to make money. Some households have resorted to the unusual tactic of organ trading on the black market to afford food and other necessities.

The issue also affects the Western world as a 2014 piece in the Sunday Post highlights the prevalence of black market organ selling in the United Kingdom. Though it is highly illegal, those desperate for both money and organs often turn to social media to plan their transactions.

Jeff Powell from the U.K.-based anti-poverty charity aptly named War on Want says, “It is shocking that people are so poor that they would be willing to sell a kidney for cash. This level of desperation is a direct result of governments… and the interests of the rich over the fight against poverty and inequality.” At the time of publication, 10,000 people in the U.K. were in need of an organ transplant, leaving many opportunities for potential sellers.

Multiple instances of illegal organ trades in Iraq have made the news recently. Since over 22 percent of the Iraqi population lives in poverty, families sometimes take desperate measures to make money. In Iraq, gangs offer up to $10,000 for a kidney on the black market.

In Iraq, it is only legal to donate organs to relatives, but illegal traders find ways (ie forging documents or signatures) around this rule. A surgeon in Baghdad explains that healthcare workers are not held responsible for illegal donations because “… in some cases, we have doubts, but this is not enough to stop the surgery because without it people will die.”

An Iraqi human rights lawyer feels sympathy for those who turn to selling organs saying, “Picture this scenario: an unemployed father who does not have any source of income to cater for his children. He sacrifices himself. I consider him a victim and I have to defend him.”

Illegal organ trading is also prevalent in Bangladesh, where many poor citizens are faced with repaying loans from non-governmental organizations that they cannot afford. Some individuals grow tired of dodging debt collectors and see the organ black market as their only option.

A University of Michigan anthropology professor explains that these exchanges are often done under sub-par conditions. “There is no safeguard as to where the organs are coming from and how safe they are, and on the other hand, the seller’s health deteriorates after the operation. That has a huge impact on their earning capacity because they cannot go back to their old physically demanding jobs.”

Although it is not foolproof, Iran seems to have found a possible solution to illegal organ trading: legalization. Iran has the only government-supported program involving trading organs for monetary compensation, but the terms vary by district. However, some Iranian markets favor the recipient, meaning that sellers may not be compensated as much as they would like. Those who do sell their organs also receive a free year of health insurance from the government and are not required to enlist in the usually mandatory military service.

Sigrid Fry-Revere, an American bioethicist is the president of the American Living Organ Donor Network and believes the US and other countries around the world should be following Iran’s example. Their arrangement allows those in poverty to make money and decreases those waiting for much-needed transplants.

Though Iran’s organ transplant programs are far from perfect, they seem to be one step ahead of many countries around the world. A legalized procedure almost guarantees safe surgery conditions for both recipients and sellers, and works to provide a mutually beneficial trade.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr