A few blocks from Istanbul’s most fashionable district, you’ll find a filthy bus station. The waiting crowds have just visited the bustling city, but not as tourists. They came to sell their own body parts.
Welcome to the growing world of organ trafficking. “Brokers travel to poor villages in countries like Moldova and ask who wants to donate a kidney,” explains Riccardo Neri. whose recent documentary, HOT, investigates the practice. “Then they put them all on a bus to Istanbul, take the kidney out and send them back without any follow-up care. The doctors don’t care if the donor dies on his way home.”
Illegal? Absolutely. Most countries prohibit the sale of human organs but permit donations. In early November, EU prosecutors accused a Kosovar crime ring, including respected surgeon Lutfi Dervishi, of trafficking kidneys. The group is said to have lured poor people to Kosovo, removed their kidneys in exchange for a small amount of money, then sold the organs to patients from countries such as Israel and Canada.
Unfortunately, the same scenario is now being repeated around the world, fuelled by a growing demand for organs. Criminal groups pay poor Moldovans, Nepalis, Filipinos, South Africans, Egyptians, Brazilians and others for their organs.
“Donors are sometimes brought to a neighboring country,” says Nadey Hakim, a London transplant surgeon. “But because you can’t transport organs very far, the recipients usually go to where the donors live. That’s why there are world-class hospitals in desperately poor cities.”
The trade function is thanks to dirty surgeons, who are able to make a fortune on the deals. While a broker may get $500 per organ, the doctor gets most of the recipient’s fee of some $50,000.
“And the recipient may die anyway,” notes Hakim. “The doctors check the donor’s blood group, but [might not] check whether he has HIV or cancer.”
Organ donations, the Chinese way
After their execution, China’s death-row prisoners participate in organ trafficking, too. “Almost all organs that are trafficked in China come from death-row prisoners,” says Toni Brandi, executive director of Laogai, a think tank that monitors China’s penal system.
“It’s not an official policy, of course, but hospitals, prison staff and Communist Party officials do it and sell the organs for a profit.”
That profit can be very high, because the hospitals and officials sell the organs to wealthy Chinese and foreign patients, rather than regular citizens in need of new organs. China’s embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment.
Myth: If I agree to donate my organs, hospitals won’t work as hard to save my life.
Fact: When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life — not somebody else’s. You’ll be seen by a doctor whose specialty most closely matches your particular emergency.
Myth: I’m too old to donate. Nobody would want my organs.
Fact: There’s no defined cutoff age for donating organs. Organs have been successfully transplanted from donors in their 70s and 80s. The decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age.
Myth: I’m not in the best of health. Nobody would want my organs or tissues.
Fact: Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating organs. It may turn out that certain organs are not suitable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. Don’t disqualify yourself prematurely. Only medical professionals at the time of your death can determine whether your organs are suitable for transplantation.