The War on Organs


Bloomberg provides grizzly details on the black market for human organs:

Aliaksei Yafimau shudders at the memory of the burly thug who threatened to kill his relatives. Yafimau, who installs satellite television systems in Babrujsk, Belarus, answered an advertisement in 2010 offering easy money to anyone willing to sell a kidney….

The traffickers paid Yafimau $10,000. He says it wasn't worth the fear that haunts him today….

Dorin Razlog, a shepherd with an eighth-grade education who lives in Ghincauti, says recruiters for a trafficking ring told him cash for a kidney would lift him out of poverty. After doctors in Istanbul cut out the organ in August 2002, they paid him $7,000—$3,000 less than they'd offered. Of that, $2,500 was in counterfeit bills, he says.

"They told me they would send people to destroy my house and kill my family if I went to the police," Razlog, 30, says. Today, the money is long gone, and he sleeps on a musty mattress inside the rusting hulk of an abandoned Russian van next to a pigsty. At the end of some days, Razlog says, he's writhing from pain in his remaining kidney.

"The only way out is death," he says.

The story describes examples of everything one expects from organized crime: mafia enforcers using fear and intimidation to exploit their victims, violent threats against potential donors considering backing out of a deal, defrauding donors out of agreed upon payments, and corruption and ineffectiveness preventing succesful government crackdowns.

Like other black markets, the organ trafficking crime syndicate is financed by massive profits due to a demand that far outpaces a regulated supply. Criminals charge extortionate prices—up to 15 to 20 times what they pay to donors—to patients literally desperate for their lives and unable to turn to legal alternatives. Worldwide bans on the sale and purchase of human organs (Iran, which has met demand for kidney transplants, is the lone exception,) are largely responsible for this shortage, as a recent editorial from The Wall Street Journal points out:

This morbid fraternity is the result of a near-universal ban on organ trading. Organs should be a "gift," goes the government-approved narrative, an act of selfless generosity. A beautiful sentiment, yes; but for those without a willing loved one to donate or years to wait on an ever-growing list, altruism can be a lethal prescription.

The only solution is more organs.

The Journal goes on to propose a system that would legalize selling human organs, but not private purchase, leaving third parties and the government responsible for making payments to donors. This may not be a perfect solution, but even half right is better than the all wrong status quo. Even if the government were paying kidney donors $50,000 each—far more than the donors in Bloomberg's feature received on the black market—the government might actually spend less per patient by eliminating the need for dialysis automatically funded by Medicare. Not to mention the patient's added benefit of not being on dialysis, waiting for a kidney that will likely never come.

H/T to the perduring Lord Humungus.

More Reason on organ transplants here, here, here, and here.