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Organ Trafficking: a Deadly Trade

A kidney? £84,000. A heart? Up to £1 million. With the number of organs now critical, wealthy patients are spending a fortune on illicit transplants. But it is the desperate ‘donors’ who are paying the ultimate price.

One January night in 2004, Susan Sutovic was woken from her sleep by a persistently ringing phone. “It was an international call from Belgrade,” she says. “Telling me my son Petar was dead.” Twenty-four-year-old Petar Sutovic was, at the time of his death, staying in his mother’s holiday apartment in Belgrade and studying law. Petar’s body was allegedly discovered in his bed late at night by his flatmate.

The demand for organ transplants is so high that people are willing to pay a large sum on illegal organ trafficking. The growth of illegal transplants has risen due to the decrease of legitimate organs available. Fewer young people die in vehicular accidents on the road. The transplant waiting list continues to grow each year and as a result, unscrupulous organisations harvest kidney, heart and pancreas for rich clients.

Groups involved in illegal organ trafficking have set up websites where poor people can sell their organs to a broker, who in turn will deal with the traders. According to a study made by the World Health Organisation, traffickers unlawfully obtained around 7,000 kidneys in 2013.

In some instances, healthy individuals are kidnapped and forced to give up an organ. Other cases showed that some people were made to believe that they need an operation and didn’t know that the organ was removed during the surgery. Some people were just desperate to make ends meet and resorted to selling an organ or two.

Organ trafficking takes place at a rate of one per hour. This was according to an estimate made by the WHO. The practice has led to five to ten per cent of the total kidney transplants around the world. Majority of the victims of organ trafficking are children from poor backgrounds or children with disabilities.

Organs sold in the black market vary in prices. A heart can cost up to £1 million.

It is not only parts for transplant that are sold illegally. There is also a market for hip, knee and whole cadavers. In the UK, it is illegal to sell any organ but that doesn’t stop desperate people offering their kidneys, lung, or a piece of their liver in exchange for a large amount of money.

Organ trafficking is an organised crime that commonly involves a recruiter, transporter, medical professionals, contractors, buyers and the banks where the organs are stored before the actual transplant. The seller usually receives the smallest portion of the take as the largest portion of the money goes to the broker, medical professionals, and towards travel expenses.

Patients who are on the transplant waiting list are tempted to buy organs illegally on the black market.

Some people who sold their kidneys have stated that they do it for the money and said that what they did save lives.

Organ trafficking should be stopped. The EU has stepped up its efforts to curb the practice in Europe. One way of doing so is to promote legal organ donation. More people should be willing to donate their organs. This is the only way to finally end the practice of illegal organ selling.


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