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January 28, 2008 / lazybug

How Much for a Kidney?

A few days back the Haryana Police busted the illegal Kidney racket run by Anil Kumar of Gurgaon. The dude had been doing this for ages and also has two hospitals in Gurgaon. Most of his clients are foreigners looking for cheap Kidney transplants. The news is that he has used his contacts to get away from the country. Irrespective of whether they find him or not, though, one thing this issue has clearly proved is that it’s high time organ trade was legalised in India. That, in my opinion is the best way to protect the interest of the donors who otherwise get duped by thugs like Anil Kumar.

Most of these donors are poor, uneducated people. Nothing wrong with earning money. After all, if someone can donate (read sell) blood, why not other organs, as long as they are not being forced to do it? It’s for the government to make sure that their interest is protected. If done properly, legalising organ trade would actually make sure that many needy people will find the right donor and would not have to use the wrong means. It would also remove the incentives for crooks, who rely on misinformation and fear to buy organs at lower costs and sell at higher costs. Market fores will make sure that everyone is kept honest.

It’s very encouraging to see the government make a start on this. Anbumani Ramadoss, Union Health Minister, has announced the setting up of 10 replicas of the Organ Retrieval Banking Organisation at AIIMS. This is a good first step, but has to be followed by leagalisation of organ trade sooner or later. The Transplantation of Human Organs Bill of 1994 has proved to be useless in curbing the menace of illegal organ trade and needs to be scrapped urgently. It is not surprising that demand for organs is high even in developed nations like US which banned organ trade as far back as 1984. Economic development does not eliminate myopia.

For success stories on legal organ trade, we need to look eastwards, more precisely at Iran. The country has legalised Kidney trade and is doing wonderfully well with its programme. An article from 2002 in Frontline looks at this phenomenon:

In a country where brain-stem death is not recognised by law, the system has virtually eliminated recipient waiting lists. Members of the CFSD have claimed that the regulated system is a “new chapter in the world’s transplantation history,”…

That, of course is just one side of it, as pointed out by the article. Donors have faced severe backlash at the work front where they have had to leave their job as they weren’t fit enough. That’s where the role of the government becomes so important.

History has proved that banning the trade of a good has not stopped the trade, it has merely taken the trade underground. Remember prohibition of liquor in Andhra Pradesh. People did not stop drinking because of the prohibition, they found new ways of doing it right under the governments nose without being caught. Gujarat is supposed to be a ‘dry state’. But it’s a well known fact that not only do buyers of liquor exist in Gujarat, the industry is actually doing quite well.

Related link: Organ Trade, a US-based NGO that tracks “the global traffic in human organs.”

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7 Comments

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  1. Liju Philip / Jan 29 2008 4:07 am

    Singapore has taken the other way of compulsory donation of organs. The govt has passed a bill in the parliament and once the patient has been declared brain dead, their organs will be harvested.

    By default every citizen is enrolled. If you want to opt out, you can. But, am not sure if the opt out person can take benefits of the scheme if he/she needs a transplant of an organ.

    That should be way out. Also, i think the govt should start some high voltage publicity campaign on this issue like the ones it did for population control, education, girl child etc.

    For one, i have decided to pledge my eyes and some vital organs (if they are usable) after my death. Am reading up on the legal and technical issues of it and soon plan to do the paper work.

  2. vinay / Jan 29 2008 4:57 am

    Anbumani Ramadoss has probably taken his first good decision. This is not the first time such rackets are busted. This calls for a serious law.

  3. Ottayan / Jan 30 2008 12:24 am

    Akhil,

    I have to disagree with legalising kidney or organ trade. If done the unscruplus among us will make it a business and the poor will be swindled, both ways.

    They can never afford an organ transplant and also will be swindled out of their organs.

    I agree with Liju, the better way would be to popularise organ donations.

  4. Aravind / Jan 30 2008 8:44 am

    Legalising organ trade is ok, but who would protect the poor from getting robbed off their organs? May be after legalisation the organ would cost less in the market, but when it comes to poor, their rights are never looked into.

    If the sufferers of organ theft were educated/rich Indians the stink that would be kicked up would reach Melbourne.

  5. lazybug / Jan 30 2008 5:28 pm

    Ottayan and Aravind: I agree with your concern about protecting the rights of the poor. The government’s role is a key in such a situation. But that, in my opinion, cannot be a reason for not legalising organ trade. I know it would entail loads of regulatory head aches, but it’s only fair that such kind of a trade is carried out in a highly-regulated environment. Frankly, I don’t see why someone should not be allowed to make money, if he chooses to do so, by selling his organ to a needy person.

    I believe encouraging organ donation is not a bad idea at all. But that is not going to stop people from selling their organs if they got a chance.

  6. sridevi / Feb 2 2008 6:16 pm

    Again, it is an exploitation of the poor by the rich. Yes, Akhil, your opinion is perfect that no legislation can stop any illegal trading; in any case, they find their own ways of doing it. But, what I feel is, there are many ways and opportunities of earning money. Selling one’s organ for making money just shows his/her haplessness. Government’s role in protecting interests of the poor is very crucial in this regard. I definitely agree to the idea of encouraging organ donation, when a person’s life is going to end and his organs are perfect to be donated to the needy. Nevertheless, legalising the organ trade is the need of the hour for throwing burglars out of the scene, though it is highly complicated. Yet again I am afraid, the illegal means might be portrayed as legal. Anything can happen in this country.

  7. anirudhbhati / Feb 8 2008 7:44 pm

    Food for thought: http://anirudhbhati.com/2008/02/08/legalize-organ-trade/

    By the way, bootleggers in Gujarat are actually helping the police to reduce crime in the state!

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