Organ Trafficking

There is an international organ shortage, and in the United States and many other countries there is a national health care crisis. Living donors of organs are often left without viable health care and are left with preventable pain, complications, and lack of adequate health care. There is an international black market for human organs, and many countries have an issue with illegal or unethical harvesting of organs from living donors. In 1991, the World Health Organization issues guidelines to avoid the coercion or exploitation of organ donors; all of the 191 countries that accepted the guidelines have largely ignored said guidelines.

Selling human organs has become a big business in many countries, including the Philippines, Egypt, Thailand, India, and Pakistan. In the Philippines, kidneys are traded on an open market. Living donors are not taken care of after the organ donation, and are often left with pain and disabilities. An amendment has been made to ban the sale of organs to foreigners. In Egypt, a sizeable portion of the population is poor and many sell organs just to make ends meet. There are some cultural and legal issues surrounding the issue in Egypt, but there is an effort going on to ban the practice of selling organs from living donors. In Thailand, the government had to break up a crime ring of doctors and other medical professionals that had been harvesting organs from poor patients to transplant into wealthy patients. In India, the illegal sale of body parts is growing, with a significant number of organs coming from poor people trying to pay off debt or buy food. Pakistan has been labelled as a “kidney bazaar,” with donors usually getting less than $2,500 from selling their organs, do not receive follow-up care, and don’t get enough money to pay off original debts.

The South Korean film The Man from Nowhere captures another perspective on the issue. An hour and a half into the movie, the main character, Cha Tae-Sik, finds that organ harvesters are taking and selling organs from children they have worked to death. This (translated) quote captures the tragedy that surrounds the exploitation of the poor in transplant tourism.

Cha Tae-Sik When the kids died, you took out their organs. You sent the liver to one district, the eyes to another, and the heart to Seoul. Isn’t that right? … Those young children. Wandering the country even after death. Did that ever cross your mind?
Villain What about you? Did you ever wonder how much they’re worth? Even their parents don’t want them anymore. It’s a win-win situation. Am I right?
Cha Tae-Sik Wrong. Just now, you should’ve apologized to those kids.

Organ trafficking is a big problem in many areas of the world, and going abroad to purchase organs from living donors will only increase the popularity of an international organ black market. Black markets do not hold themselves to the same ethical standards as normal markets, and will inevitably lead to human rights violations such as the fictitious one above.

When people travel to another country to get organs from living donors, those organs are often coming from a poor or otherwise disadvantaged person that cannot afford health care and is not given adequate remuneration for their body parts. While it is possible to remove one kidney or part of a liver and still live, it is not a fun process. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and may be taken out when removing a kidney. When my father got adrenal cancer, they had to remove one of his kidneys in addition to the adrenal gland. He has suffered since then, but he has health insurance and a good doctor. I could only imagine what these donors feel like after losing a kidney, as they have no health care. I would gladly give one of my own kidneys for him, but I would not go abroad to buy a kidney from someone else who is most likely selling their organs as a last resort. It should be illegal to participate in transplant tourism as the organs will be coming from people who cannot afford to reduce their pain and suffering after their organs are taken. It is unethical to cause one person pain and suffering simply so that another can live.



Lee, J. (Director). (2010). The Man From Nowhere [Motion picture]. South Korea: Cinema Service, Opus Pictures, United Pictures.

            Note: This is an extremely gory and bloody film. The scene portrayed in the essay starts around one hour and twenty-eight minutes in.

Smith, J. (2008). “Dirty Pretty Things” and the Law: Curing the Organ Shortage & Health Care Crises in America. Scholarly Commons @ FAMU Law, 361-387. Retrieved April 4, 2017.