The Commercial Trade in Human Organs Started in India

In the 1980s, certain clinics in India started to perform transplants using organs that they bought from individuals or dealers. The trade quickly spread to neighboring Pakistan, the Philippines, Egypt, and China. These countries have a large population of poor people but some excellent medical centers with well-trained professionals ready to cut.

The Worth of the Human Body in Asia

$250K is the figure that the journalist, Scott Carney, came up with when researching his book The Red Market. For many impoverished citizens, their bodies are the one marketable asset they have.

Kidneys Flood the Market

Most people have two kidneys, but we can often function with just one, so it’s not surprising that kidneys are the most traded organ on the black market. After a 2004 tsunami, destitute women in a refugee camp sold their kidneys to brokers. The brokers realized that the women were desperate for cash and moved in immediately after the disaster to make larger purchases.

Living in Captivity

In 2016, police raided an apartment near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and released 24 people who had been locked inside. Those captives were waiting for a broker to take them to a clinic where doctors would remove a kidney.

Organ Shortages

All over the world, there are long waitlists for organ transplants. Sick people can wait years and even die waiting for a suitable organ. This situation has given rise to so-called transplant tourism. Desperate patients travel abroad, often to Asian countries, to have a transplant. These patients often don’t ask how the surgeon obtained the organ.

Chinese Tradition

In many ways, China is a traditional country. One deep-rooted belief is that the body should be complete when a person dies. The result is that people are reluctant to sign up to donate their organs. Previously, the ever-practical Chinese authorities got around the problem by using the bodies of executed criminals. This practice came to a halt (officially) in 2015 after an international outcry. The demand for organs far outstrips the supply, so, as you might expect, the black market is covering the shortfall.

The Asian Black Market is Difficult to Control

Although international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have condemned organ trafficking, the trade continues. There is a demand, and black marketeers will always work to meet that demand.

Murder for Organ Gain?

In 2019, searchers found a missing Cambodian 11-year old girl. She was discovered dead with her hands tied behind her back; she was missing some of her internal organs. Police denied that her killer had harvested her organs, but suspicions remain.

1/3 Black Market Organs

Overall, human trafficking of all types is worth around $32 billion a year. Estimates of how many transplanted organs are illicitly purchased vary widely, with some saying that it could be upwards of a third of the total organs.

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Last Update: June 22, 2023