When Malaka, an Indian tsunami refugee, agreed to sell her kidney, the organ broker told her she would receive $3,500. But after the operation, he gave her only $700 -- for an organ that a wealthy foreigner likely paid $40,000.
"She got what she deserved," the broker told the National Geographic Channel in an "Explorer" episode, "Inside the Body Trade."
Later, when Malaka's son's kidneys were failing, the doctor told her, "You gave away your kidney. Now your child needs a kidney. Who will give it to him?"
While free-market types have talked up Transplant Tourism as a nifty way for the world's poor to barter their way out of poverty, National Geographic Channel reporter Lisa Ling told me that after visiting organ donors from two villages in India -- one known as Kidneyville -- "the overwhelming majority of them did not get the money they were promised."
Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania Art Caplan told me, "We may feel we can still justify this by saying we're leaving them better off than they were -- minus a kidney, but at least they've got some change in their pocket." In a sense, it is "the equivalent of the neighborhood thug comes to town and says, 'You owe me money, and I see you have two kidneys.'"
At least Malaka is alive. In China, officials have admitted that they have sold the organs of executed prisoners to foreigners. And China executes convicts, not just for violent crimes, but also for crimes like embezzlement -- perhaps even, according to allegations denied by the government, for being an adherent of Falun Gong.
"Nobody really told me about these things that I'm hearing about now. ... I had no idea," Eric De Leon of San Mateo, Calif., told Ling. Diagnosed with terminal liver cancer so advanced that he did not qualify for a transplant in America, De Leon bought a liver in China last year.
China has since announced new restrictions on its organ trade. For his part, De Leon continues to blog on his "Transplant Tales -- to China and Back." The "No. 1 crime punishable by death, the most common crime committed, is drug smuggling," De Leon blogged last year. It seems the odds are good that his liver did not come from a dissident.
De Leon told Ling that when he informed his doctors he was going to China for a liver, they told him, "'In your shoes, I'd probably do the same thing,' and they would be happy to treat me when I came back."
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