Category Archives: Illegal Organ Trafficking

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.   


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