[Marxism] The organs trade

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Thu Jul 15 04:17:07 MDT 2004

In a world where the wealthy set the rules of trade, it was only a matter of
time until parts of the human body became a hot cash crop. Not only can the
rich afford to buy organs from the desperately poor, they also can use "free
market" logic to defend the purchases as ethical. From this perspective, it'
s a win-win situation in which allegedly equal participants come together.
The buyer gets a healthy organ, the seller some needed cash. The roles of
the organ brokers and the surgeons are defined as benign, if not downright

The real dynamic is very different. As the trade in organs burgeons,
concerned medical anthropologists have set up an independent research and
medical human rights project, Organs Watch, which does fieldwork in many
countries around the world. Its investigations reveal that while buyers and
sellers may be about equal in their desperation, they are dramatically
unequal in all other respects. The buyers are obviously well-off; the
sellers, most economically marginal, include the hungry and homeless,
debtors, refugees, undocumented workers, and prisoners. The buyers have
access to the best modern medical technology; the sellers usually have no
access to medical treatment or follow-up care.

The trade in organs has opened up medical and financial connections,
creating a new movement of human beings that is part transplant tourism,
part traffic in slaves. In one well-traveled route, small groups of Israeli
transplant patients take a charter plane to Turkey, where they are matched
with kidney sellers from rural Moldova or Romania. The transplants are
handled by a pair of surgeons, one Israeli, one Turkish. Another network
unites European and North American patients with Philippine kidney sellers
in a private Episcopal hospital in Manila, arranged through an independent
internet broker who advertises on the web. Meanwhile, a Nigerian
doctor/broker facilitates transplants in South Africa or Boston, with a
ready supply of poor Nigerian kidney sellers, most of them single women. The
purchases are notarized by a distinguished law firm in Lagos.

Organs Watch brings together information on policy and law from
anthropologists, human rights activists, physicians, and social medicine
specialists at
http://sunsite3.berkeley.edu/biotech/organswatch/pages/reports.html See also

Kidneys are being sold for cash by poor Eastern Europeans desperate to
escape tough economic times, feeding the burgeoning demand for transplants
in the West, a medical journal has warned.

Daniel Wikler, staff ethicist with the WHO in Geneva, said that (...) organ
trafficking is a complex but highly lucrative business: "This is happening
all over the world, not just in eastern Europe, and it appears to have
reached the wholesale level," he said. "I've heard reports that some brokers
make deals with transplant centres for as many as 400 kidneys at a time.
That's worth a tidy sum of money"
[In India] The police revealed startling information about the plight of
poor "donors" who had been kept in bondage in certain houses by the
musclemen till their kidneys were removed at Amritsar and Jalandhar
hospitals against payment from Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 only. However, the
middlemen get more than Rs 60,000 as commission in each case from doctors
and the recipients. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20020923/main7.htm

In 2001... researchers studied 305 people in Chennai, India, who had sold a
kidney (on average) six years earlier. A law supposedly banning the practice
was passed in 1994. Ninety per cent of participants sold their kidneys to
pay off debts. On average individuals received US$1070, most of which was
spent on debts, food and clothing.

Should people be allowed to sell their organs? Currently, exchanging organs
for money or other "valuable considerations" is illegal, but some members of
the medical and business communities would like to change that. One of those
is the American Medical Association's influential Council on Ethical and
Judicial Affairs. Convinced that the balance of moral and ethical concerns
favors the ability to sell organs, they would like the laws to change, and
the AMA's governing house of delegates is scheduled to vote in June on
whether to support a pilot program.

"why shouldn't you be allowed to decide your own level of risk? When we have
rich people who want to take up risky sports just for fun, we say, "Yes, of
course you can; that's your decision." But when we have a poor person who
wants to take a much lower risk for a much greater return, we say, "Oh no,
you don't know how to decide for yourself, we have to decide for you."

The film [by] Stephen Frears [called] Dirty Pretty Things (Miramax Films,
2003)... problematizes the ethical controversy that is the illegal trade in
human organs. It has the tension-filled atmosphere of a Hollywood thriller
but, it is much closer to life than that. In the case of Dirty Pretty
Things, art indeed imitates life.


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