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Organ Trafficking

Globally, the surge for human organs has been increasing at an exponential rate. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that more than one human organ is sold in every one hour, in 2010(B.Samadi, 2012). Over the past forty years, the significant advancement in medical and science industries, and successful surgeries in organ transplantation have encouraged illegal organ trafficking from people regardless of the nations. According to United Nations protocol, “Organ trafficking consists of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or detaining of people for the purpose of organ removal and exploitation (United Nations)”. Usually, in organ trafficking, the victims experience illegitimate means of force, threat or other forms of coercion such as kidnap, deception and fraud (United Nations). This paper illustrates the issue of organ trafficking through analyzing the causes and effects of organ trafficking. Additionally, it also states the debates regarding organ transplantation and the initiatives that are taken by both medical community and the government to solve the excess demand of organs.

The issue of organ trafficking is a transnational as organs are traded across borders of countries. The clients travel through different countries to get an organ, which is known as the transplant tourism (Shimazono). In addition, even without mobilization, the desperate patients obtain organs from various countries through mediators and commercial transactions (Shimazono). According to the World Health Organization, the developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom receive organs from most of the developing countries such as India, China, Philippines, and Pakistan (Shimazono). The economic constraints and technological inequalities cause the people in the developing countries to sell their organs to the scientifically advanced and powerful developed nations.
The class, gender, age, specific groups influence the supply of and demand for organs. There is a huge demand for organs in the global market because of the scientific advancement and technological innovation in medical industries along with the restrictions for organ selling in most of the countries. First, the tremendous medical progression and the successful organ transplantation increase the life expectancy of people and give hope for their survival, which urge higher demand for human organs (United Nations). According to the WHO, it is reported that “there about 65,700 kidney transplants, 21,000 liver transplants and 6,000 heart transplants carried out annually (Reuters, 2007).” It is visible that the organ transplantations are carried out mostly in wealthy developed countries compared to developing countries because of better economic condition and technological support in the developed countries. Therefore, as it is stated above, the demand for organs in developed countries such as the United States and Australia,is higher than that in the poor third world countries. Second, selling organs is illegal in many countries, except in Iran, and people voluntarily donating organs without receiving any economic gains is very rare (Jonna Castle Miller, 2010). Therefore, it encourages highly needed people to buy organs illegally and force people to commit crimes.
Though organ selling is illegal, people sell their organs for many reasons, especially in the developing countries. First, class influences the decision of buying and selling organs. Income disparity urges the poor to sell their organs and rich to buy them. The poor in the developing countries sell their vital organs, for example kidney, to earn more income and to fulfill their economic needs. Data shows that “in developing countries living donors provide 85 to 100% of donations compared to 1 to 25% in the developed world (Rizvi, Naqvi, Hussain, Hashmi, Aktar, Hussain & Ahmed, 2011)”. Since selling organ is illegal and organ donation is rare, the price for an organ is very high in the market, which encourages, mostly, the poor people to sell their organs. According to another data the price of organs in developing countries such as south Africa, India and manila, $700, $1000 - $1200, and $1200- $2000 respectively while in the United States the price of organ is above $3000 (Reuters, 2007).Further, most of the people in the developing world are illiterate and ignorant of health consequences of organ selling. Traffickers use the poor’s desperate situation and manipulate them by giving false promises and tricking them. A research shows that “most organ traffickers purchase a kidney for $10,000 and sell it to the patient who is receiving the organ for $150,000 (Havocscope Global Black Market Information)”. The different prices in the organ trade for developing countries versus for developed countries show the inequality and exploitation of poor in developing countries.
Apart from class, the gender roles may also influence the organ selling. There are no accurate data, which shows that a particular gender tends to sell their organs more than the other gender categories. However, from news articles and journals, gender roles may influence the decision of selling organs. Though poor men and women voluntarily sell their organs, the purpose of selling their organs may differ for men and women. Generally, many poor women sell their organs to fulfill their family needs such as paying back their family’s or husband’s debts, paying for their children’s tuition fees and medical expenses ( Rohter, 2004). In contrast, men sell their organs, not merely because of poverty, but to pay back their own debt, or to buy commercial things and to start new business ( Rohter, 2004). Over all, women’ roles such as nurturing and caring, and men’s rolesas primary bread winners are reflected in the context of organ selling.
Some specific groups are more vulnerable to organ trafficking such as refugees, prisoners and children. These specific groups are often marginalized in the societies, which make their situation insecure, as they have lack of rights, power and political participation. In case of refugees and/or forced migrants, smugglers forcefully demand the organs from the refugees especially when they attempt to migrate to other countries, illegally (CNN, 2011). Additionally, it is reported that dead bodies of refugees including children, and adults are often found in trash can with missing vital parts of organ in their bodies (CNN, 2011). Further, in China, according to the Chinese law, the government forcefully remove the organs from prisoners who have been given capital punishments. The human-rights advocacy organization Amnesty International points out that “an estimated 65% of China's organ donations come from prisoners (Burkitt,2012).” Moreover, children are also victims of organ trafficking, as they are fragile and easy to be trapped. In Africa, it is foundthat even parents sell their children’s organs to the traffickers. Similarly, in Haite and Mongalia,the orphanage and street children, in particular, are more vulnerable to trafficking due to their abandoned position in societies(Evan, 2010).
In addition, religious beliefs and cultural practices may also influence organ donation. Most religions, for example Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, encourage organ donations because it is an individual choice, and an act of charity and love while some, for example Islam, restrict it as it is not mentioned in their holy book Quran (Bresnahan & Mahler, 2009). In most of Asian Developing countries, such as China, India, Philippines the major religions are Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Thus, people may be willing to sell their organs as the religion encourages organ donatio. In addition, since Islam restrict organ donation , it may be the reason for less supply of organs in Muslim countries such as, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
The poor in developing countries sell their organs to improve their family’s economic status, however, selling organs affects the poor adversely. In context of organ trade, the poor are often cheated by the traffickers by giving them a higher price for their organs. An anthropologist MonirMoniruzzaman, in his research study has found out that in Bangladesh, 81 percentage of poor people who sold their organ, do not receive the actual money as they were promised (Parry, 2012). For example, the traffickers would promise to pay $1200 to $1000 for a kidney, but the sellers would only get $600 for their valuable organs (Parry, 2012). Most of the poor sell their organs to repay their debt and to improve their economic conditions. However, a research study, shows that about 93% of the people in least developing countries sell their kidneys to repay their debt, yet, 85% of the people are unable to improve their lives or pay back their debt and do not achieve their objectives in selling their organs (Saberi& F. L. Delmonico, 2008).
Another consequence of selling organs is that poor become unhealthy, as they do not receive proper medical treatment after their surgery (B.Samadi, 2012). The poor who are deceived by the traffickers do not get proper medication because they are illiterate, and are not aware of medical procedures. A recent meta-analysis data shows that “obtaining organs abroad are at a higher risk of contracting transmissible diseases, such as hepatitis B or HIV(B.Samadi, 2012)”.When the poor sellers become unhealthy, they lose their employment, as they could not able to fulfill their tasks effectively and function properly. Losing employment makes the poor even worse as they lose their regular source of income, although it is meager. Further, the young sellers are not preferred in the context of Asian marriages, because in some cultures people expect perfect bride or bridegrooms without any illness or missing parts in their bodies ( A Bos, 2007). Above all, there are some cases where the organ sellers commit suicide because of depression caused by poor economic condition resulted from unemployment, social stigmas and unhealthy condition ( A Bos, 2007).As health is one of the most important factors of human development, when people become sick, it hinders not only their personal development, but also the country’s development.
The concept of selling and buying organs is still debatable in the global context. Some scholars argue that organ transplantation should be legalized considering economic and ethical perspectives. The supporters of organ trafficking argue that since our body belongs to us, each individual has the right to do whatever she or he wished ( Cherry). In addition, scholars state that making restriction on organ selling affects our personal autonomy and freedom to act. The medical community prefers organ selling because of shortage of organ supply in the global context ( Cherry). They also argue that as the organs available for transplantation is very less, the only way to increase the supply is by giving them financial incentives ( Cherry). Additionally, scholars also point out that the poor in the developing countries get economic benefits by selling their organs ( Cherry).
The experts who are against organ trafficking argue that selling organs lead to commodification of human bodies which affects human dignity ( Cherry). Additionally, scholars point out that permitting organ selling exploit the poor for the advantage of the rich ( Cherry). If organ selling is legalized, the poor will become the sole sellers of the organ, while the rich will be the buyers ( Cherry). Therefore, legalizing organ selling makesfewer opportunities for the poor as buyers and has more negative impacts for the poor than it as for the rich.
Despite the debate regarding the issue of legalizing organ selling, the scientists and governments seek for alternatives to fulfill the current need of desperate patients. The medical and science community experiment new methods of organ transplanting from animals to humans, which is known as Xenotransplantation; however, it raises issues regarding animal rights (Watson, 2006). Despite the medical communities’ effort to meet the present demand of organs, the government and other organizations implement effective and efficient methods to increase the supply of organ donation without necessarily violating the human rights and exploiting the poor. For example, in some countries like India encourages the organ donation by offering rewards and gifts to the organ donors (Watson, 2006). Similarly, some other countries, like South Africa maintain national organ donor register, where the people can register for organs, and the donor can include to whom they would like to donate their organs (Watson, 2006).
In conclusion, organ trafficking is a controversial issue which has many dimensions. People in developing countries affect adversely compare to the developed countries, and the traffickers in many ways exploit the poor. However, scholars argue that organ selling should be legalizing to increase the supply of organs in the society. Despite the arguments, medical community is seeking for new solution to solve the problem of shortages of organs.


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Bresnahan , M. J., & Mahler, K. (2009). Ethical debate over organ donation in the context of brain death.. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.

BBC News. (2012, March 23). China to end organ donations from executed prisoners. BBC News. Retrieved from china-17485103

Burkitt, L. (2012, March 23). China to stop harvesting inmate organs. Retrieved from 625345898.html

CNN. (2011, November 03). Refugees face organ theft in the sinai. CNN. Retrieved from organ-theft-in-the-sinai/

Cherry, M. J. (n.d.). Embracing the commodification of human organs: transplantation and the freedom to sell body parts. Retrieved from

CNN. (2011, November 03). Refugees face organ theft in the sinai. CNN. Retrieved from theft-in-the-sinai/

Evan, T. (2010, January 27). Traffickers targeting haiti's children, human organs, pm says. CNN. Retrieved from 27/world/haiti.earthquake.
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ROHTER, L. (2004, May 23). The organ trade: A global black market; tracking the sale of a kidney on a path of poverty and hope. The New York Times. Retrieved from tracking-sale-kidney-path-poverty-hope.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

Shimazono, Y. (n.d.). The state of the international organ trade: a provisional picture based on integration of available information. Retrieved from

Saberi, D. A. B., & F. L. Delmonico, (2008). Organ trafficking and transplant tourism: A commentary on the global realities. American Journal of Transplantation, 8(5), 925–929. Retrieved from

The Telegraph. (2012, May 12). Illegal organ trade on the rise, say world health experts. TheTelegraph. Retrieved from hnews/9294082/Illegal-organ-trade-on-the-rise-say-world-health-

United Nations.(n.d.). Executive summary of the joint council of europe/united nations study on trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs. Retrieved from _execsum_en.pdf

Watson, C. (2006). The organised crime of organ trafficking. Retrieved from 072827/unrestricted/WatsonC.pdf

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Watson, C. (n.d.). The organized crime of organ trafficking. Retrieved from 072827/unrestricted/WatsonC.pdf


missjenn's picture

Hi Theepa!Thanks for sharing

Hi Theepa!

Thanks for sharing this. I was just reading a couple articles about organ trafficking and I was curious on what World Pulse members have to share about this topic.

It's really upsetting and it makes me so mad when I hear about the poor being exploited and being tricked or forced (due to poverty) to sell their organs. As you've mentioned about organ donors in Bangladesh, some donors never get their promises fulfilled. I read a story about a teenage boy who "voluntarily" donated his kidney to buy an iPad. How awful is this? Shame on people especially respectable doctors and hospitals involved in this illegal business!

Also, I found your point about gender roles very interesting. Do you think women are more likely to be a victim of organ trafficking?


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