Illegal U.S. Organ Trafficking Not An Urban Legend?

A recent issue of Newsweek Magazine featured a story about organ trafficking and the possibility of an illegal organ procurement/transplantation market in the United States.  To say the story is disturbing is putting it mildly.  The article, Not Just Urban Legend,  was written by Jeneen Interlandi and draws heavily on information provided by Nancy Scheper-Hughes a PHD anthropologist from the University of California at Berkley.  Scheper-Hughes spent more than a decade tracking the illegal sale of human organs around the world. 


While the hospital name is not mentioned, Scheper-Hughes refers often to a big Philadelphia hospital that she believes, “Has been transplanting black-market kidneys from residents of the world’s most impoverished slums into the failing bodies of wealthy dialysis patients from Israel, Europe and the United States.”  She also indicates that the Philadelphia hospital is not alone among U.S. Hospitals that are involved in the illegal trafficking of organs. 


The Berkley anthropologist claims she has compiled sixty pages of evidence from organ buyers, sellers and brokers in virtually every part of the world.  According to the Newsweek story, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one fifth of the 70,000 kidneys transplanted worldwide very year come from the black market.   The story claims that while prices vary from country to country a Kidney can be bought in the United States for $30,000.


The Newsweek story goes on to say, Scheper-Hughes’s evidence, which is largely anecdotal and comes in part from interviews with known criminals, has not convinced U.S. State department officials otherwise. “It would be impossible to successfully conceal a clandestine organ-trafficking ring,” Todd Leventhal, the department’s countermisinformation officer, wrote in a 2004 report, adding that stories like the ones Scheper-Hughes tells are “irresponsible and totally unsubstantiated.” In recent years, however, the WHO, Human Rights Watch and many transplant surgeons have broken with that view and acknowledged organ trafficking as a real problem.”


Obviously I cannot vouch for the accuracy of Scheper-Hughes’ information.  I can testify, though, about my own experience.  My Blog on has covered numerous subjects.  One was titled, “Would You Sell a Kidney for $47 K U.S.?  The blog quoted an Australian physician who thought that price to be a fair one.  It in no way encouraged or even subtly suggested that people should sell their kidneys.  Since writing the blog I have received at least three dozen comments and/or emails from people offering to sell their kidneys.  The reasons given were usually quite simple and straightforward – they needed the money.  As a result I have no trouble believing that many Americans would sell a kidney to anyone that could come up with the price.  I have no evidence to indicate that the transplants are done here in the United States. 


I am disturbed, though, that such a practice could go on here and that there is even the remotest possibility that U.S. Licensed transplant surgeons would be involved in this illegal practice.  Perhaps it is time to do a better job of policing the situation or, exploring new ways other than the altruistic approach to obtaining organs.   


Please read and comment on my World Wide Issues  blogs on   Also…visit my Facebook site, Organ Transplant Patients, Friends and You at  OR — my Facebook home page


About Bob Aronson

Bob Aronson is a former journalist, a Minnesota Governor's Press Secretary and talk show host. For nearly a quarter of a century, he led the Aronson Partnership, a Minnesota-based communications consultancy that prepared corporate and government executives for crisis situations, regulatory testimony, media interviews and Presentations. Among his clients were all three U.S. Mayo Clinic locations, 3M, general Mills, CH2M Hill, the U.S. Department of Energy and scores more. In 2007 bob had a heart transplant after suffering from idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy for 12 years. Shortly after he got his new heart he founded the now 4,300 member Facebook support group, Organ Transplant Initiative. At the same time, he established the Bob's Newheart blog where he has posted nearly 300 columns on organ donation, transplantation and other health related issues. The Viewpoint blog was started in late 2016 and bears the name of the Radio Talk show Bob did from 1966 until 1974, when he resigned to become Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich first Press secretary. Bob and his artist wife Robin, live in Jacksonville, Florida with their two dogs, Reilly and Ziggy. Bob is also a woodworker and makes all of the furnishings for Robin's art festival booth. He also makes one of a kind jewelry or "memories" boxes that he donates to select transplant patients, caregivers, donor families and others who have somehow contributed to making life easier for the ill, the elderly and the less fortunate. Bob is in the final stages of editing two full-length novels that will be available on Kindle when ready for release sometime in early 2017. One is a sci fi novel about an amazing discovery near Roswell, New Mexico and you will be surprised to find it has nothing to do with the Roswell story everyone knows. It features a woman scientist who investigates impact craters for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Dr. Rita Sylvester and her female student intern. The other book is a political thriller that introduces a new hero to the genre, Fargo Dennison.

Posted on February 11, 2009, in Illegal Organ Trafficking. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. WOW – Illegal Organ Seizure Rings!

    Whatever happened to the days of the ole Mob, Bad Cops, corruption – drug, prostitution and gun Rings!

    I guess they those markets were flooded!

    Oh, well – lets look forward to “CHANGE and HOPE”

    I am sure excited – arn’t you all!


  2. Jennifer you are right. If there is real evidence of illegal trafficking the information ought to be given to the proper authorities. To do otherwise is a violation of all that we hold dear.

    I think, though, that we must all be alert to the “potential” for abuse of the system. For that reason alone I thought it was important to blog the issue.


  3. Jennifer TIslerics

    Perhaps the authors of that study and that article should come forward with their knowledge of any alleged illegal transplants in the USA, and let the authorities do their job and shut it down.

    I can’t see any reason not to “out” such illegal activity, if it does in fact exist. It is immoral not to share that information with the authorities.

    I can imagine there may be a few living kidney donors who are receiving payment and lying through their teeth (successfully) to all the authorities who implement the checks and balances in the system. But I have an incredibly difficult time imagining this is common in the USA. In other countries, yes, but not in the USA.

    Let them come forward with their proof so we can put a stop to this illegal activity, if it does indeed exist.


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