Black market organ trade skyrockets

Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor

While standing in the endless line at the DMV, it seems so simple to check the box next to “organ donor” and receive the small, red heart on the bottom right corner on that renewed driver’s license.

As of 2018, the Heath Resources and Services Administration reports more than 155 million Americans, nearly 58% of the population, are registered organ donors. However, the same report notes that more than 113,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant with little hope in sight. This has led many families to take desperate measures and purchase healthy organs on the international black market.

Although purchasing organs is banned by the World Health Organization and the majority of countries, it is estimated that roughly 10,000 illegal transplants occur annually, making up about 10% of all transplants performed worldwide.

This industry is fueled by the global organ shortage. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) notes that about 7,300 Americans die every year while waiting for a life-saving organ. Even with the majority of the population registered as organ donors, there is still not enough supply to meet the demand.

This growing desperation and increased shortage has opened the door to a dark underworld of international crime.

Since 2006, a new industry of “transplant tourism” has boomed. This practice involves traveling to a foreign country for the purposes of purchasing a healthy organ for transplant. The World Health Organization estimates the cost of one of these “vacations” to be anywhere from $70,000-$160,000, depending on the organ involved.

Kidneys are the most common organ in need of transplant and is one of the only organs that can be donated while the donor is alive. This makes healthy kidneys extremely sought after in Western countries, often leading the people in this industry to do the unthinkable.

In 2016, Pakistani officials raided an illegal clinic that was holding 24 people captive to harvest and sell their kidneys. While these prisoners were rescued, others are not as lucky. The illegal organ trade has become an extension of human trafficking, where individuals are not only exploited for sex or their ability to work, but for their organs too.

Too often this issue goes ignored by governments because organ donation, or obention, is viewed as an ultimately good and lifesaving act. However, the life of a wealthy, westerner cannot be considered more valuable than that of a poor individual in the Middle East or China, where the illegal organ trade is most rampant.

No matter how dire the situation, it proves fundamentally wrong to take the organ of another human being without their consent, yet this industry is only growing as more and more westerners fall ill to kidney failure.

However, this fact has led many to argue that the sale of organs should be legalized.

Some believe that the only way to destroy the illicit organ trade and its connection to illegal imprisonment and human trafficking is to allow citizens to sell their organs instead of donate them.

This is far from the truth.

Even with legalized organ sales, it is unlikely that the necessary number of Americans would participate to close the organ deficit. Organ transplants require extensive surgeries and often lengthy recovery periods. Even with the extra money gained from selling an organ, it is unlikely that it would even cover the costs of the hospital stay.

In addition this would prevent poorer individuals from receiving transplants in a timely manner. A new system of buyers and sellers would disproportionately affect low-income patients. Organ transplants cannot be reserved for those who can afford it.

Organ donations are a serious matter. They require giving a functioning body part to another human being and should not be done out of need for financial gain. Instead they should be a freely willed gift, and the current system supports that process.

Healthy, human organs are not a commodity and should not be treated as a luxury item reserved for the rich. They must be viewed as unbelievably generous gifts that should be distributed fairly. The international community must pay more attention to stopping this horrific black market trade in order to preserve the dignity of each human being as more than a set of replaceable parts.