Should governments stop the poor from selling body parts?

The demand for organ transplants in rich countries is rising much faster than the supply of organs donated through traditional means. A small but growing number of the world's poor are offering up their body parts for sale, and kidneys are the most commonly purchased organs, according to Foreign Policy.

From 1990 to 2003, the number of kidney donations from deceased donors in the United States rose 33 per cent, while the number of kidney transplant patients on the waiting list grew by 236 per cent. Trends are similar in other rich countries.

  • A typical seller (Philippines) is male, 28.9 years old, with seven years of education and an annual family income of $480.

  • A typical buyer ( Israel) is a male, 48.1 years old, with a university degree and an annual family income of $53,000.

    The fees kidney sellers receive around the world vary widely:

  • The cheapest kidneys can be found in the Philippines and India for about $1,500; in pre-war Iraq, kidneys were going for about $750 to $1,000.

  • The middle price market for kidneys includes $2,700 in Moldova and Romania, $6,000 in Brazil, and $7,500 in Turkey.

  • The highest prices can be found in Peru at $10,000 and Israel at $10,000 to $20,000; the United States has the highest asking price in the world at $30,000.

    Professional brokers often connect sellers with buyers and negotiate prices. These brokers sometimes travel extensively to arrange the most lucrative deals. However, recent evidence suggests brokers are not the only ones travelling. Transplant tourism is becoming more and more common, where kidney sellers travel abroad for the operation. Often they are provided with airfare, accommodation and even sightseeing tours.

    Foreign Policy reports that Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa, emerged as common meeting points for several years, before South African authorities broke up an organ trafficking ring involving South Africans, Israelis and Brazilians in 2003.

    Source: Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Organs Without Borders, Foreign Policy, January/February 2005.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 22 March 2005
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