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The International Trafficking of Human Organs: A Multidisciplinary Perspective

2011 Edition, October 14, 2011

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Active, Most Current

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ISBN: 978-1-4398-6789-1
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Product Details:

  • Revision: 2011 Edition, October 14, 2011
  • Published Date: October 14, 2011
  • Status: Active, Most Current
  • Document Language: English
  • Published By: CRC Press (CRC)
  • Page Count: 276
  • ANSI Approved: No
  • DoD Adopted: No

Description / Abstract:


The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a few years ago that organ trafficking and transplantation pose new challenges because the international illicit trade in human organs is on the increase, fueled by growing demand as well as unscrupulous traffickers. The rising trend has prompted a serious reappraisal of current legislation, while the WHO has called for more protection for the most vulnerable people, who might be tempted to sell a kidney for as little as $1,000.

Increasing demand for donated organs, scarce resources, contaminated donors, high economic profitability, uncontrolled trafficking, fragmented laws and nonenforcement practices, corruption, and the challenges of transportation between closely related species have prompted a serious reevaluation of international guidelines and given new impetus to the role of the WHO in gathering epidemiological data and setting basic normative standards.

There are no reliable data on organ trafficking-or, indeed, transplanting activity in general-but it is widely believed to be on the increase, with brokers reportedly charging between $100,000 and $200,000 to organize a transplant for wealthy patients, Donors-frequently impoverished and ill educated-may receive as little as $1,000 for a kidney, although the going price is more likely to be about $5,000. There is ample evidence to find a global network of organized criminal cartels engaged in the trade of human organs, skin, bone, and tissue.

The WHO has also urged governments "to take measures to protect the poorest and most vulnerable groups from ‘transplant tourism' and the sale of tissues and organs, including attention to the wider problem of international trafficking in human tissues and organs."1 Just recently, the police broke up an international trafficking ring that arranged for Israelis to receive kidneys from poor Brazilians at a clinic in the South African port city of Durban. But such high-profile successes merely scratch the surface.

Countries such as Brazil, India, and Moldova-well-known sources of donors-have all banned the buying and selling of organs. But this has come at the risk of driving the trade underground.

Behind the growth in trafficking lies the increasing demand for transplant organs. In Europe alone, there are currently 120,000 patients on dialysis treatment and about 40,000 people waiting for a kidney, according to a recent report by the European Parliamentary Assembly. The waiting list for a transplant in 2010 was 10 years. With the potential for this delay resulting in death, the desperation of sick people increases dramatically and gives enormous advantage to the traffickers, who are motivated only by greed.

In Asia, South America, and Africa, there is widespread resistance-for cultural and personal reasons as well as due to the high cost-to using cadaveric organs, or those from dead bodies. The failure to adequately screen cadaveric organs, skin, bone, and tissue from nations such as African ones with high rates of communicable diseases adds more public health concerns to the problem.

In China, the organs of executed prisoners are harvested without their permission and distributed in rank order to (1) high-ranking government officials, (2) members of the military, (3) wealthy Chinese and foreigners, and (4) common citizens.

The majority of transplanted organs come from live, often unrelated donors. Even in the United States, the number of renal or kidney transplants from live donors exceeded those from deceased donors for the first time in 2001. Yet the "Guiding Principles" on human organ transplantation, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1991, state that organs should "be removed preferably from the bodies of deceased persons," and the live donors should in general be genetically related to the recipient. They also prohibit "giving and receiving money, as well as any other commercial dealing."

There are numerous books on the topic of organ trafficking, but none view the problem from a multidisciplinary perspective. In order to fully appreciate and intelligently understand the problem of organ trafficking, one must examine it from a broad perspective, and this is exactly what we have done in this edited volume. For example, it does little good to deal with the problem of organ trafficking from a moral or ethical perspective without examining the economics that drive individuals who are desperate to seek out those who would pay them for their organs, or for that matter physicians who illegally remove a kidney from poor or otherwise socially marginal hospital patients during routine and minor surgeries for other medical problems. In the final analysis there is no one discipline that is more important than the other in understanding the problem, but in combination they provide a perspective that is missing in any single source. Thus, in keeping with this philosophy, we have organized this book into the following four sections:

Section I: A Criminal Justice Perspective

Section II: A Business and Economic Perspective

Section III: A Medical, Ethical, and Philosophical Perspective

Section IV: A Theological Perspective

Each section of the book will be preceded by a brief annotated summary of each research paper to assist readers in identifying which ones might be of particular interest to them.


1. World Health Organization, "Organ Trafficking and Transplantation Pose New Challenges," http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/82/9/feature0904/en/index. html.