Bioethics Blogs

Transplant Tourism, A New Kind of Trade: Ethics of Kidney Transplants, Technology & Exploitation of Donors


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By: Christina Sailer

One of the great miracles of modern medicine is the ability to save a dying patient through organ transplantation. However, there still remains a worldwide shortage of organs and an excess of disadvantaged individuals who believe their salvation is not to receive, but sell one.

Today’s global economic imbalance has become a feeding ground for black market systems, a structure that will continue to thrive so long as the dichotomy between poor and wealthy nations persists. The socioeconomic stratification that the black market trade provides offers only a short-term benefit to its donors. These donors, or vendors, have thus become victims of a system that is unregulated, and marked with exploitation.

With capital as their driving force, these impoverished individuals do not have the ability to provide informed, rational consent to the transplant procedures. Instead, new educational programs and policies could help not only caution potential recipients about the corruption in black market organs, but also raise awareness about the issue and inspire more to become legal donors.

Three years ago I was fortunate enough to meet 47-year-old Eleni, a Greek immigrant who had undergone an unconventional transplant operation. After nearly 6 years on dialysis, and even more waiting on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) donor list for a new kidney, Eleni finally found a living donor.

Like many with organ failure, Eleni had exhausted all options for saving her life, including turning to the black market system. For-profit organ markets, or proposals for government-regulated incentives, can provide hope for individuals in need of a transplant.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.