By Nisha Bhakta
Over 100 million people in the United States have signed up to be organ donors, 79 people receive organ transplants each day and 18 people die each day due to the continued shortage of donated organs. It’s no surprise then that so many Americans as well as others from around the globe have succumbed to transplant tourism, traveling abroad to undergo an organ transplantation. Traveling abroad, especially to third world countries, has its benefits: the cost of surgery is often cheaper, the supply of organs is more plentiful and those who give up their organs often reap a profit. However, it has come to the media’s attention in recent years that the restrictions implemented by foreign countries in an attempt to regulate the international organ trade have led to many illegal and black market transactions. What’s more, some organ donors are forced into selling their organs, such as organ gangs in Israel who lure in the poor and then force them to sell their kidneys. Likewise, in Bangladesh organ trade means big business. Each year, hundreds put their body parts up for sale in the underground organ bazaar, hoping to escape the clutches of poverty, only to be short-changed by brokers in the black market or burdened with chronic health problems, according to police officials and residents. Israel and Bangladesh are only a few countries where these dangerous under-the-table transactions occur. Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United States are reportedly countries of origin for the majority of patients who seek transplants overseas. India, Pakistan, China, and the Philippines are, on the other hand, a few of the countries that supply most illegal organs.
Why not legalize the international organ trade? Would this not eliminate the current problems that the illegal organ trade poses? The answer is two-fold.
On one hand, the legalization of the international organ trade would yield positive benefits. For example, it would inevitably cause international standards to be set, thereby raising the bar in terms of health and safety standards. It would also undoubtedly increase the amount of organs available to those in need across seas. The legalization and therefore regulation of the international organ trade would also provide more financial security to those who willingly sell their organs. Almost every country has prohibitions like America’s 1984 National Organ Transplantation Act which prohibits compensation for organ donating. Iran is one of the few exceptions; by legalizing sales they have solved their kidney shortage problem while millions around the world still suffer. Civil liberties however can be seen as the most fundamental case for legalizing organ sales as the idea of “my body, my choice” comes into play.
On the other hand, the legalization of international organ trade would automatically set a higher standard for the quality of the organs being donated and the amount to be paid for them. “It is not a good idea to legalize payment for organ donors as such payment institutionalizes the belief that the wealthy ill have property rights to the body parts of the poor,” says Professor A. Vathsala, director of the adult renal transplantation program and head of nephrology at Singapore’s National University Hospital.
Not to mention that those who cannot afford the cost, those whose organs do not meet the standards and those who are desperate to make even the smallest amount of money would have no reason not to enter in black market dealings. Even if a standard, legal form of international organ trade were to be established the likelihood of it eliminating organ trade on the black market is unrealistic.
If the black market organ trade is going to exist with or without the implementation of international regulations, some regulations might as well be set. In this way, those who choose to be law abiding will be able to buy and sell their organs with better health and safety standards. Ultimately, it comes down to saving lives. It would be better to save more lives by opening up legal international trade of organs and have a black market rather than having no legal trade, less lives saved and a black market.
Courtesy of Kurt Nordstrom