Organ Trafficking

July 19, 2011 • Volume 5, Issue 14
Can the smuggling of human organs be stopped?
By Sarah Glazer


Four members of a Pakistani family have sold a kidney (AFP/Getty Images/Nicolas Asfouri)
Since 2000, four members of a Pakistani family have sold a kidney for about $1,200 apiece to pay off debts to their employer, who gives them each $12 a week to work in his Rawalpindi brick factory. Recent reports indicate a resurgent organ black market in Pakistan, despite a ban that became law in 2007. Shown displaying their surgery scars in 2009, are (from right) brothers Mohamed Riiz, 22, and Mohamed Ijaz, 25, and father, Karm Ali, 65. Ijaz's wife Farzana, 20, (seated) also sold a kidney. (AFP/Getty Images/Nicolas Asfouri)

Headline-grabbing arrests of kidney brokers and renegade doctors provide glimpses into a global black market in human organs that is thriving from South America to Asia. The World Health Organization estimates that 5–10 percent of the 100,000 organs transplanted each year have been purchased illegally, typically from poor people desperate for cash. In China, thousands of organs reportedly have been forcibly removed from prisoners to feed a lucrative “transplant tourism” business. The full scope of the global organ black market remains unknown because transplant doctors and hospitals either don't know the organs were trafficked or are complicit in the deals. Critics say hospitals should disclose the source of all transplant organs so illegal sales can be tracked. Some doctors say legalizing government payments to organ donors — as Iran has done — is the only way to eliminate trafficking, but the mainstream medical community says such payments would only exploit the poor. Artificial organs eventually could help satisfy the growing demand for organs, eliminating the black market.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Jun. 24, 2022  Organ Trafficking
Jul. 19, 2011  Organ Trafficking
Apr. 15, 2011  Organ Donations
Feb. 21, 2003  Organ Shortage
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Oct. 05, 1990  Transplants: Why Demand Exceeds Supply
Jul. 08, 1983  Renaissance in Organ Transplants
May 24, 1968  Heart Surgery and Transplants
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