On the evening of September 26, 2006 I was sitting down to watch an episode of Nip/Tuck and the opening scene pertained to my ethics class. One of the characters was bought drinks, then drugged, and woke up to a phone call telling her she would be fine but that the medicine would wear off soon. As she looked down she noticed a large ice pack on her side, and sure enough her kidneys had been removed. Throughout the rest of the show they investigated other cases, stating that black market kidneys can often seel for as much as $200,000 or more. The kidneys were then shipped off to other countries such as India and Tokyo. Although, this seems very real it also lead me to think that they were playing up an urban myth. I researched it and found that there is an urban myth like this, and that the show might have been laying that up. However, kidney stealing is a SERIOUS issue...so I did my own research, and what I found didn't surprise me.
According to National Geographic News is 2002 doctors performed 24,900 life saving organ transplants. However, for every one person given a transplant another two people were put on a waiting list. Now, over 80,000 people in the US are waiting for organs. Every 14 minutes someone is added to that list, and in 2002 6,000 people died waiting for organ donations.
In December 2003, police broke up an international kidney trafficking ring. Brazilian police stated that people were being flown in S.Africa and having the removal surgery. Some of the participants paid up to an astounding amount of $100,000.
With Americans fearing death more than anything else it's not surprising the lengths that one would go to, to move their name up on that list. Or what they would do to come in contact with an organ in illegal ways. In the situation of money versus life, money doesn't appear to be a significant factor. People are doing what it takes, even going to other countries to have the surgery done. This makes me wonder, what about when it is our time to go? What if your body is saying no more? How do we take the natural courses of life into consideration when we can go out and buy more parts to fuel us? What about altruism? How are we to tell if people are really going to donate their organs for the joy they get in helping others or who is doing it for money? Prohibiting payment for organs allows allows us to ensure the quality of the organ and makes sure that it is a six out of six match. If we had every random person who needed the money donating organs who can tell what kind of "shape" they are in. Also, doesn't it make this society even less equal than in already is? The poor sell their kidneys or other organs and the rich pay absurd amounts for them, to save themselves or their poor children who may die inevitably due to their life plan. Are body parts not determining our net worth? There are so many questions that all have so many different answers.
I suppose I don't have a clear and concise answer to any of these questions that I posed, and although I have brainstormed an enormous amount and looked at many different angles of the situations, there is no right or wrong answer. How do you tell someone no, when they are dying? Or tell them "it is your time to go?" Or tell a loving father that because he doesn't make enough money he can't buy the kidney transplant for his daughter? You can't, just like I can't come up with an answer. All I can do is base it on the situation at hand. Each and every case needs to be looked at from every different angle and researched thoroughly. Each transplant needs to be done in a proper and ethical way. Selling kidneys for me only takes away from our self worth and makes us more of a piece of meat than society is already forming us into. If we can't do things the right way, why do them at all?
[Editor's Note: The BBC just published an article on Iran's Desperate Kidney Traders:
On streets and in town squares in Iran, young men and women can be seen holding signs offering their kidneys for sale.]