By Nisha Bhakta
Staff Writer

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


  1. When one outlaws something, one creates a black market; that’s bad almost 100% of the time. Property is de-legitimized and people must seek protection through self-help measures (Generally means paranoia + guns = people that didn’t need to die). Moreover, quality/knowledge of a product is entirely unknowable, so more people end up dying because there is no capacity for contract enforcement.

    However, practically speaking lives will be saved as a result, although they will be people of means–but really, and I say this with empathy, when has this not been the case (its not like outlawing organ sales makes it better for poor people). And with respect to the Indian doctor’s comment–rich people already own the body parts of the poor–its called their hands, minds, and reproductive organs via their wages. If this suddenly makes for impromptu/emergent order/de facto forcing of higher standards of organs–OK. Now national health care services don’t have to worry about smokers and people become more health conscious etc. However, I will readily admit that the people this most directly effects don’t have the opportunity for a supremely balanced diet. Nevertheless, I take the side of utilitarianism here–competition for the sale organs does more good than bad.

    Morally speaking, the definition of ownership is the ability to sell, destroy, and alter something. If I can’t sell my kidney (accepting the fact I have to alter my dietary habits) to make through a rough patch or send a child to college–I don’t own it. Therefore I don’t own my body–people with badges and guns do.


  2. I agree with you completely Nolan! I think the biggest objection is that people see it as being blatantly “wrong” to sell organs even though logic and reason would suggest otherwise.

    Also I think that people who are desperate enough to sell their organs may not educate themselves well enough to really care for themselves post-transplant. Even if some sort of educational program is put into it where the seller needs to undergo some sort of process before selling the said organ, I doubt that poorer countries will have the resources to accommodate to the diet changes.

    But ultimately, as you said, its happening anyway- might has well make it safe as possible.

    PS Love what you mentioned about ownership.


  3. If the trade were legalized, the same organs that are now being sold by drug companies would cost far more. The fact may improve health issues associate with underground organ sales, but it would also encourage it and allow companies pricing options as donor lists would be relegated to the past. It would cause a pyramid capitalist structure of organ price bidding. People don’t agree with legalizing of the organ trade because capitalism should not dictate who lives or dies.
    With a legal capitalist organ market, that’s exactly what happens. There’s a reason Keynesian economics exist. Were coming out of the worst recession since the depression, under-regulation is one of the main reasons we entered it. Just as the banking industry needs regulation, organ traders need it as well.
    Legalization would not only create more living organ donors, but also significantly increase the consumer prices.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: