Maria Whitter


Eng. 106

June 19, 2015

Kimberly Brownlee

Causes and Consequences of Illegal Human Organ Trading

Levy Izhak’s case was the first confirmed case of illegal humanorgan trading. Izhak pleaded guilty to the offence of assisting inunlawful kidney transplants in 2011, in a federal court (Gregory,2011). Izhak’s lawyers acknowledged that his act was illegal, butstill added that it was benevolent. In his plea, the transplantsresulted in no complications and the recipients and donors were aswell in good health. Such a case results in the question why thetrading of organs is criminal. It brings to light the controversialissue of human organ trading as a criminal activity.

Human organ trading or trafficking is a criminal activity due to theapproaches used in getting the organs from the donors to therecipients. According to the “Global Initiative to Fight HumanTrafficking”, the trafficking happens in three extensive categories(Cho, Zhang &amp Tansuhaj, 2009). There are instances where thetraffickers compel or misinform victims to donate an organ. Thesecond category involves instances when the victims consent eitherofficially or unofficially to trade an organ, but end up cheatedsince they do not receive their payment, or receive a lesser amountthan initially agreed. The third category is where vulnerableindividuals receive treatment for non-existing illnesses and havetheir organs removed unknowingly. Organ trading is organized crime,which engages the efforts of several offenders. These include therecruiter that identifies vulnerable victims, the health professionalcarrying out the harvesting of organs, those that transport thevictims and organs, buyers and intermediaries. Given the criminalityof the act, it is impossible not to question why victims wouldendanger their lives and have their organs harvested illegally andthe benefits for all parties involved. By evaluating the causes andconsequences of illegal human organ trading, this paper furthersupports the criminality of the act.

The major cause of illegal organ trading is poverty. Researchdemonstrates that most of the individuals that agree to sell theirorgans are very poor. In addition to living in awful poverty states,they have debts that accumulate daily due to high interest. Most areunemployed and see organ trading as a way to make money. Aronowitzand Isitman (2013) assert that donors include both men and women. Theauthors provide the illustration of organ sellers in India where “60%of the women were laborers or street vendors, while in Punjab pooryoung men between the age of eighteen and thirty agree to sell akidney (Aronowitz &amp Isitman, 2013 p. 78)”. The same case isapparent in Moldova, where the sellers come from rural regions. In aninterview with kidney sellers from Bangladesh, thirty of themacknowledge that the reason for engaging in the trade is simplypoverty (Parry, 2012). The sellers get to know of the organ tradethrough newspapers that make false promises to those interested orthose that agree to trade their organs. For instance, the newspapersmay lie that individuals will be rewarded with visas that will makeit easier for them to travel overseas where they can secureemployment and change their poor economic status. The advertisementsmake promises to travel to America or Italy, which are merely fakepromises, since it is not possible for the buyers to guarantee visas(Parry, 2012).

The other cause of illegal organ trading is greed. The high demandfor organs makes trading a lucrative business (Cho, Zhang &ampTansuhaj, 2009). Lured by the money that the parties involved willmake, they take for granted the criminality of organ trafficking.Modern medicine has made it possible to employ organ transplants as amanner of saving many lives. Legally human organs are supposed to beobtained from persons that have agreed to donate their organs andfollowed the appropriate procedure. Following the appropriateprocedure ensures that the donors are fully aware of the risks thatthey expose themselves to prior to the donation. It also ensures thatthe medical methods used in getting the organs adhere to standards,and do not place the donor’s life in danger. However, followingsuch a procedure is expensive and almost impossible for recipientswho rarely have all the time to wait for an organ. Individuals thatchoose to get organs legally have to wait for a long period prior togetting one. There are just about 20,000 kidneys each year, yet thereare 80,000 sick persons waiting to receive organs (Gregory, 2011). Alarge number of the individuals on the waiting list pass away priorto receiving their organ. As a result, most receivers have resultedto the black market to get organs faster. Medical practitioners andintermediaries on the other hand see this as an opportunity to makemoney. The intermediaries seek organ donors for receivers and inreturn get a lot of money for their services. Medical practitionersas well get to benefit from performing the procedures, both toharvest the organs and perform the transplant on receivers. There isa lot of money to make in the business of organ trading, becausereceivers are willing to pay a lot of money to save their lives.

Additionally, the ease of exploitation in human organ trading drivesthe criminal activity. Criminal rings engaged in the trade are ableto get donors and receivers easily. There is a huge supply of povertystricken, uneducated individuals that are willing to sell theirorgans due to the lure of money. On the other hand, organ receiversare individuals that are in urgent need of the organs and willing toget them from the black market. According to Parry (2012), mostdonors are unaware of what a kidney is because they are not educated.A perfect illustration is the case of brokers lying to donors thatone of the kidneys is normally asleep, while the other is active.Such a lie works to convince the poor and uneducated people that theydo not need to have two kidneys. Hence, they easily believe that thedoctors perform the operation to remove the sleeping kidney given torecipients (Parry, 2012). The mere source of information for donorsconcerning the organ donation is from brokers or receivers.Conversely, the recipient and broker take advantage of the fact thatdonors are unknowledgeable and fail to enlighten about the risksassociated with the process. Organ trading is exploitative, becauseapart from being uneducated donors are in need of money, and arewilling to do anything to get the money. Recipients andintermediaries promise to pay donors handsomely following theprocedure, which works as a motivator. Sadly, many of the donors donot get the promised amount and they can do nothing to follow up ontheir payments, since the trade is illegal (Aronowitz &amp Isitman,2013). An illustration is a poor Bangladeshi promised $1700 to $1600,but was just paid $600 (Parry, 2012).

Likewise, a huge supply of organ recipients ensures the market forillegal human organs progresses to thrive. Currently, the demand forhuman organs, high among the list kidneys, progresses to surpass theavailable legally donated human organs. For instance, close to 40,000sick persons from Western Europe are in the waiting list forreceiving kidneys from willing donors (Erin &amp Harris, 2003). Thecriticality of the patients and long waiting list makes it impossiblefor recipients to be alive when it is their turn to receive organs.Research depicts that just one in every four of the patients will getthe organs they require in time (Erin &amp Harris, 2003). The samescenario is in the United States where the demand for organs exceedssupply. Further is the proof that organs from live donors are betterwhen compared to getting them from cadavers. Given the circumstancesand urgent need for organ transplants, recipients opt for gettingorgans from the black market. They buy the needed organs frombrokers, who in turn take advantage of their desperation to remainalive and lead normal lives.

The consequences of illegal organ trading further enhance thecriminality of the act. Organ trading has resulted in transplanttourism. This refers to the traveling of affluent recipients tonations where organs are easily available through the black marketsand laws are less strict, to get transplants obtained from deceiveddonors (Scheper-Hughes, 2003). Because the act of buying and sellinghuman organs is unlawful in many nations, sick patients travel toplaces like India, Bangladesh and Israel among other nations wherethe black market is a thriving business. In these countries, they areable to get donors and doctors easily to perform the transplants. Aslong as the recipient has money to buy organs and pay for theoperation, then getting the organ is very easy. Transplant tourismhas been eased by the emerging figures of organized gangs in thebusiness, who guarantees supply for organs. Unfortunately, most ofthese recipients do not realize that they endanger their lives due tothe high possibility of getting organs from patients that haveillnesses like HIV or hepatitis. The illegal trading makes itimpossible for doctors to follow the needed medical processes inensuring the organs are safe for transplant.

Another consequence is the irreversible harm caused to donors.Research on both willing and unwilling donors demonstrates that theirquality of life does not improve, rather deteriorates following theoperation (Aronowitz &amp Isitman, 2013). Most of the victims areunable to perform tasks that they could previously perform at ease.For example, “In Moldova, kidney sellers reported having to spendtheir earnings to hire labourers to compensate for the heavyagricultural work they could not do (Aronowitz &amp Isitman, 2013,p. 81)”. Victims encounter grave consequences to their wellbeingfollowing the donation. The illegality of organ trading results inthe operations happening under unhygienic conditions. The donorscomplain of chronic pain during and following the procedure. Sincemany victims are poor, they are not in a position to pay forfollow-up medical services. Hence, they are compelled to live withthe pain and complications because it is not possible to report topolice, due to their taking part in a criminal act.

Human organ trading is without a doubt criminal. It is against thelaw because it is caused by poverty, greed and exploitation. Poorpeople sell their kidneys with the hope of getting wealthy. Partiesinvolved are greedy to make large and fast profit from the business.It is easy to exploit uneducated victims into becoming donors, whilethe desperation of recipients creates ready markets for brokers. Theconsequences affect both donors and receivers, mainly resulting inill health and promoting transplant tourism. Law enforcers need towork harder in curbing organ trade.


Aronowitz, A. A &amp Isitman, E. (2013). Trafficking of human beingsfor the purpose of organ removal: Are (International) legalinstruments effective measures to eradicate the practice? GroningenJournal of International Law, 1(2), 73-90.

Cho, H., Zhang, M &amp Tansuhaj, P. (2009). An empirical study oninternational human organ trafficking: Effects of globalization.Innovative Marketing, 5(3), 66-74.

Erin, A. C &amp Harris, J. (2003). An ethical market in humanorgans. Journal of Medical Ethics, 29(3), 137-138.

Gregory, A. (2011). Why legalizing organ sales would help to savelives, end violence. The Atlantic, 1-1. Retrieved from legalizing-organ-sales-would-help-to-save-lives-end-violence/248114/

Parry, W. (2012). How poverty, false promises, fuel illegal organtrafficking. Live Science, 1-1. Retrieved from

Scheper-Hughes, N. (2003). Keeping an eye on the global traffic inhuman organs. The Lancet, 361, 1645-1648.