According to an article on CNN.com published today, the sale and trafficking of human organs is a major global business. It targets poor people who need rapid cash. One of its major hubs is Israel. It’s not the wake up in a hotel bathroom in a bathtub of ice story of urban legend, but it does describe the routine buying and selling of human organs. These organs, obviously, go from poor people to rich people; it’s a kind of biological colonialism. According to the WHO, up to ten percent of kidney transplants are illicit.
I’m pretty stunned. This is something that everyone suspected was going on, but I don’t think anyone believed there was organ trafficking at this level. No one is sure what to do about it, either. We can’t expect hospitals to do detailed investigations of everyone who donates or receives an organ. A Salon.com essay posits that we could reduce organ trafficking by doing a better job of recruiting donors in wealthy countries, which could cut down on the need to buy organs from strangers. Time magazine revisits the argument that legalization is the answer. Then, at least, we could regulate the trade and legally protect those who donate.
In other creepy organ news, China recently admitted to harvesting organs from executed prisoners. Authorities also mentioned that corruption entered into the donation process, and that prisoners did not always give consent. It seems clear to me that the technology is way ahead of the ethical canon and regulatory structure when it comes to organ donation. Whatever answers we end up with, we need to do some serious thinking and legislating on this, as soon as possible.