The International Black Market in Human Body Parts

You might not sell one of your kidneys for $6,000, but a lot of people will. To understand why people “donate” their body parts for cash, keep in mind the horrible conditions that are part of the everyday life of the poor in the Least Industrialized Nations.

After reading the article, in a detailed one page essay, please answer the following questions.

What is wrong with people selling their body parts, if they want to?
Aren’t poor people better off with one kidney and 6 years of extra earnings to buy a house, start a business, or take care of their families than with two kidneys and no such opportunities?
Do not use any cite, write an essay in your own words.

José’s Old Kidney: The International Black Market in Human Body Parts


One of José da Silva’s childhood memories is the morning when seven children shared a single egg for breakfast. Da Silva is one of twenty-three children born to a woman in Brazil who sold her flesh to survive. As an adult, da Silva works for the Brazilian minimum wage, making $80 a month. When he heard that he could sell a kidney for $6,000, it was like a dream come true. It would take 6 years for him to make $6,000.

How did da Silva’s kidney become part of an international black market in human organs? The story starts in Brooklyn where a woman had been on dialysis for 15 years. This woman was on waiting lists for kidney transplants, but so were another 100,000 Americans. By the time there would be a kidney for her, she would be dead and buried.

The doctors told the woman, “Get one however you can.” There was just one problem: selling human organs is illegal in all countries except Iran. Then the subterranean network came into play. The woman’s husband “heard from someone” that a group in Israel might be able to help. The man had relatives in Tel Aviv, and they made contact with this group. The charge would be $60,000 for a kidney. It was these men who made arrangements to buy one of da Silva’s kidneys.

Getting the cooperation of South African surgeons was also necessary. The surgeons aren’t involved in the selling or buying of organs, and they try to comply with the law. But with someone needing a kidney to continue to live—well, like surgeons in many places, including those in some of the finest hospitals in the United States—they don’t ask a lot of questions.

Black markets in human organs encircle the globe. The one thing they have in common is this: It is the desperate poor who sell their organs and the better-off or wealthy who buy them.

Photo from Pakistan that shows men baring scars in their torso from where they have given an organ to the human organ trade.
The human organs on which the international black market depends come from the poor. This photo was taken in Lahore, Pakistan, after a raid on a clandestine clinic. The police found ten people who had just had a kidney removed.

The shortage of organs and the long list of people who need them have led to even darker transactions: organs stolen from unwilling victims. Apart from reports of individuals who were drugged and awoke with a kidney snatched from them, the more common and better documented example is this: Chinese officials harvest organs from executed prisoners. (I mean, why let the body of a no-good executed lawbreaker go to waste?)

To whitewash international relations, China has made a law prohibiting the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners, but the practice continues.

Source: Based on Interlandi 2009; Sack 2014; Nagapppan 2017; Paul et al. 2017.

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