Organ Trafficking: A Lifesaver or Exploitation?

Imagine sitting in a hospital waiting room, the fluorescent lights casting long shadows on the wall, reflective of your grief. The doctor has just informed you that both of your sons have a serious kidney condition and will die soon without a transplant. Your kidneys are compatible with both of your children, yet you only have one kidney to give. You would gladly rip out both your kidneys and hand them to your children on one knee, but this is not an option. You can save one son’s life only at the cost of the other, a decision no parent should face. You have little money saved up and cannot sustain dialysis treatments for an extended period of time. The waiting list seems miles long, and the clock is counting down. You love your family, but you’re out of options. What will you do? Go.

Organ trafficking is a growing black-market business popularized in countries with ample population of the destitute, such as China and India with nearly 2,000 people donating annually in India alone for meager sums of money. The waiting list for organ donations is comprised of 123,000 people solely in the United States, and that’s excluding those who don’t have enough money for the procedure or for dialysis for an extended period of time. Those on the kidney waiting list endure expensive dialysis treatments many times a week for up to several years, which can inflict severe consequences on the body. The supply of usable organs is rather meager compared to the demand, as organs are only legally harvested from bodies of previously registered organ donors, from altruistic donors (who desire the best for a close friend or family member), or from those who are truly good samaritans. Even if a patient receives the kidney, it may be too late, or if by some grace they manage to recover, they could be permanently affected by their time without working kidneys. Many people who are financially desperate deign to sell their organs on the black market just to provide for themselves, but the banning of organ trafficking provides complications regarding safety and the validity of the “contracts.”

Those in favor of disbanding organ trafficking argue that it’s an immoral and corrupt exploitation of the poor. By legalizing organ trade, it would encourage those without options to sell themselves as means to an end which could severely harm them in the long run. Organ trafficking comes in several forms: forceful seizure of organs without consent and without financial compensation, the harvesting of organs with consent but hesitation, getting paid substantially less or not at all, or the treatment of ailments by doctors accompanied by the removal of organs without the consent or knowledge of the patient. The black market business is booming as the need for organs is ever increasing, and there are many who seek to improve their situations. The surgeries are conducted illegally in a poorly-sterilized environment with poor post-op care. Operations are often conducted in nondescript locations that lack sanitation or even in mobile hospitals that make the process more efficient but are less safe. Many complications can arise from these operations, especially with those conducted on children, the elderly, or the unhealthy. Patients are desperate for donations, and some countries have taken their efforts too far. Death row inmates from China are often used as donors, with or without consent, and those who die in hospitals are often dissected without the consent of the immediate family or by prior agreement of the deceased. Organ trafficking is not without complications or exploitation, but good things do come out of the business.

Each day in the United States, 21 people waiting for organs die. Accidents ending with intact organs are rarer than one would think, and selfless donations are few and far between. Though not without its flaws, the black market trade does open up the opportunities for life for those who thought they had no hope of getting a transplant. While gruesome in theory, organ trafficking saves the lives of countless people who are willing to cross some boundaries to stay alive. Those who can’t afford transplants have new hope with black-market organs. The more common a commodity gets, the less expensive it becomes. The patients aren’t the only beneficiaries of the operations; the donors transform their lives. While a meager and unjust payment in our terms, the two to five thousand dollars fetched for a kidney can completely alter the course of the donors’ lives. They are so destitute that money from their donation can buy them and their families a place to live and the means to live. The option of selling bodies for money may not be an ideal situation, but, given the circumstances, it’s a win-win transaction, saving lives on one end and transforming them on the other.

Organ trafficking is mutually beneficial and will happen, no matter the rules and regulations governing it. People will always need new organs, and people will always be in need of money. If there’s an acceptable transaction, it will be performed under the guidance of the law or through the black market. The current ban on organ trafficking, while well-intended, is hurting the party that it serves to protect. It’s established to keep the poor from being exploited for their bodies, but the reality is that exploitation will always be present and that the poor are actually hurt as a result of the overbearing “protection.” The ban of organ trafficking does not stop the operations. It only makes them substantially more hazardous. The use of the black market allows poor healthcare, manipulation of payment rates, and the harvesting of organs without consent. With legalization, the regulation of the safety of healthcare facilities would be stricter and result in a safer environment, and the negotiation of contracts between the donors and the hospital/recipient in regards to payment could become standardized and binding, not allowing for the conning and exploitation of donors. If the donors give full consent, they should be allowed to have control over what is done with their body. It’s their body to keep. In the same way we mutilate our bodies with ink or conscious-altering substances, we retain the right to say what happens to ourselves. There’s no true harm in the legalization of paid organ donations, as it saves and transforms lives with no major outward consequence. If people cannot provide sufficient organs by altruistic donation, what is the iniquity of incentivizing a life-saving, fiduciary procedure?