Ethical Considerations Living Donor Research Organ Markets

How Victims of Organ Trafficking in Bangladesh Fare

My prior post addressed how the attitudes underlying kidney markets has infiltrated our own. Today, I want to discuss how the kidney sellers fared after relinquishing their kidney: (any bolding is mine)


After the surgery, the first thing the sellers notice is the rough cut about 20 inches long on their bodies. The sellers are unaware that if the buyers had paid only $200 more, the surgeons could have used laparoscopic surgery, which requires an incision as small as four inches. To minimize the cost, the sellers are also released from the hospital within five days after having this highly sophisticated operation. Sellers return to the broker’s unhygienic apartment with a permanent scar of this bioviolence.


Staying in India, especially after the operation, is so inconvenient that almost every seller travels back to Bangladesh within a few days, despite the doctor’s recommendation to stay a few weeks longer. While travelling by train in such early stages of recovery, some sellers experience bleeding from their wound. Malek, a 28-year-old seller, visited doctors in Calcutta for the bleeding but could not afford to stay for his treatment. When the sellers cross the border into Bangladesh, they reenter their old life with a new, damaged body, the end product of the bioviolence.


After returning home, sellers are under constant psychological pressure to explain their absence and to hide their scars.. If the scars are revealed, the sellers make up a story of an unfortunate accident that happened during their job in a distant city. However, some sellers are unable to hide their actions; they are stigmatized and are called “the kidney man.” A few sellers also decide not to get married, ever.

Above all, the sellers’ health profoundly deteriorate in the postvending phase. They experience numerous physical problems and went through severe psychological suffering. The sellers refer to themselves as “handicapped.” Yet, none of the sellers could afford the biannual postoperative health checkup, which costs only 1,500 Taka ($22).


Most sellers (27 out of 33 sellers) do not receive the full amount of money they had been promised…

Only two sellers, Abul (32) and Rahmat (28), benefited economically, opening a livestock farm and buying land with the payment. The others have not escaped poverty and are actually living in worse conditions than they were before their operations…

Of Bangladeshi sellers, 78 percent reported that their economic condition deteriorated in most cases after the surgery; many sellers lost their jobs and were still unemployed, while others were able to work fewer hours because they had only one kidney.


Every year, most sellers vividly remember their operation day—“the death day,” as one of them called it. Every day, all sellers live with the fear of dying sooner because they have only one kidney


Some sellers therefore felt strange when their recipient died. Those sellers could not comprehend how one of their body parts could have died when they themselves were still alive.


The sellers I interviewed tended to withdraw from their family, friends, and society. They suffered from grave sadness, distress, hopelessness, and crying spells. In their frustration, some sellers therefore became
addicted to drugs.


Thirty-three Bangladeshi sellers typically experience pain, weakness, weight loss, and frequent illness after selling their kidneys


A quick review of studies from other countries with legal, quasi-legal or illegal kidney markets will tell the same tale. Commodifying kidneys benefits recipients, and physicians but is highly detrimental to the person relinquishing the organ.


Moniruzzaman M (2012). “Living cadavers” in Bangladesh: bioviolence in the human organ bazaar. Medical anthropology quarterly, 26 (1), 69-91 PMID: 22574392

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