Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On Kidney Thefts

Globalization has hit the shadier aspect of the organ markets:

As the anesthetic wore off, Naseem Mohammed said, he felt an acute pain in lower left side of his abdomen. Fighting drowsiness, he fumbled beneath the unfamiliar folds of a green medical gown and traced his fingers over a bandage attached with surgical tape. An armed guard by the door told him that his kidney had been removed.

Mr. Mohammed was the last of about 500 Indians whose kidneys were removed by a team of doctors running an illegal transplant operation, supplying kidneys to rich Indians and foreigners, police officials said. A few hours after his operation last Thursday, the police raided the clinic and moved him to a government hospital.

Many of the donors were day laborers, like Mr. Mohammed, picked up from the streets with the offer of work, driven to a well-equipped private clinic, and duped or forced at gunpoint to undergo operations. Others were bicycle rickshaw drivers and impoverished farmers who were persuaded to sell their organs, which is illegal in India.

Ghastly, isn't it? At least people have two kidneys. The illegal markets for hearts or livers would leave the unwilling "donors" dead.

Stories like this one is one reason why letting commercial markets function in organ transplants is not the most ethical of alternatives. Whenever such a market is created, the criminal minds will do something of the kind described in the above quote.

Commercial markets also have a slightly different problem: Only the most desperate are eager to sell their organs, and the most desperate are more likely to be malnourished and ill, with organs which are not that healthy, either. Those sellers are also more likely to suffer from having just one kidney left, say.

So why would anyone support markets in organ transplants? The main reason is that more organs would then become available and that this could save lives. But such markets would require an enormous amount of oversight for all the reasons mentioned above. And they still would reveal that ugly class-based aspect of the rich buying health and the poor selling it.