Is Outlawing For-Profit Human Organ Transactions Just a Another Failed Prohibition?
Written by William R. Rusk, GEI Associate
Today’s world is faced with the worrisome dilemma of deciding whether or not to legalize the for-profit human organ market. A perplexing question considering the fact that we have the technology to successfully transplant most human organs today. In the US, the only legal organ market is voluntary, not-for-profit, and typically posthumous. However, it is clear when examining the data (Figure 1) from the Health Resources and Services Administration, today’s human organ market is nowhere near meeting current demand.
That is a total of just under (due to some multiple organ candidates) 121,968 Americans that are waiting for an organ transplant that will save their lives. The US Department of Health and Human Services predicts that 18 people die each day because the organ their life depended on did not reach them in time. Now and again, this subject is cast into the mainstream, such as Discovery.com’s recent infographic which lists the market (presumably black-market) prices for human organs in a nostalgic Operation board-game style. But for those dying every day from organ failure, there is surely little humor found in that.
A Different Approach
In other countries the demand for human organs is handled differently. China, for example, is the only country (admittedly) which practices harvesting organs from executed prisoners. This practice is widely viewed globally as a human rights violation. However, even with this controversial program, they still fall short of their human organ demand. Under pressure from international criticism, China has vowed to end this practice by mid-2014. They have promised to begin relying on a US style volunteer programs.
The Darker Side
China’s current human organ harvesting program doesn’t seem as grisly in contrast to how demand for human organs is met in areas of political turmoil. There are reports that the Free Syrian Army has been harvesting organs to fund their civil war against the Syrian government. Also, in the grips of a war with drug cartels, reports have come out of Mexico that suggest a black-market in human organs has been thriving. With nightmarish accounts being revealed such as the one below…
This week the leader of an armed vigilante group fighting the Knights Templar claimed his men rescued several children who were being taken in a refrigerated van to a Pacific port, after they were kidnapped from a local school.
"They were inside a refrigerated box, tightly wrapped in blankets," José Manuel Mireles told local media. "They were all children from the same Mexico City school."
Word on the Street
There is no doubt a demand for human organs that is not being met do to laws and other governmental regulations. As we have seen in similar cases such as that of drugs, prostitution, and alcohol (during prohibition) organized criminal entities will supplement supply to meet demand. It appears that human organs have become such a commodity for these nefarious organizations. Using black-market information that has been gained the D NEWS pricelist and the website Havocscope, which has been called the “Consumer Report for the underworld”, we can begin to value (Figure 2) the current street market value of the deficit in the US human organ market using HRSA’s current waiting list.
Where We Folly
Now it is easy to see why organized crime and militant groups are beginning to view human organ harvesting as a significant source of income. With billions of dollars on the line and no regard for human life, these underworld organizations will most likely continue to use human organs as a way to fortify their positions around the world. Now we have to ask ourselves if continuing to outlaw the for-profit human organ market is actually benefiting us or hurting us in the long run. Or can we leave this question to families, do they want to receive funds for the organs of their recently deceased loved ones? Answering this question is frightening, but not answering it may be even worse.
- Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (HRSA, 2 March 2014)
- Donate The Gift of Life (organdonor.gov, US Department of Health & Human Services, 2 March 2014)
- Your Body Part Price List: You're Worth More Dead Than Alive (Infographic) (Eric Rogell, D NEWS, 18 April 2012)
- China to end use of prisoners' organs for transplants in mid-2014 (Li Hui and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, 2 November 2013)
- US backed Free Syrian Army allegedly trafficking in human organs (Robert Tilford, GroundReport, 2 March 2014)
- Mexico: Knights Templar Drug Cartel Made Recruits Eat Children's Hearts in Initiation Rite (Umberto Bacchi, International Business Times, 21 March 2014)
- Prices and Costs of Black Market Organs and Kidney Transplants (Havocscope, 9 October 2013)