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Transplant Industry’s Role in Illegal Organ Trade

I’ve written about Dr. Nancy Scheper-Hughes before. The writer of this article asks the right question: why is no one listening to her?


Regarding her time at a 1995 conference in Bellagio, Italy (emphasis mine):

One [transplant] surgeon told her that he knew of patients who had traveled to India to purchase kidneys. She remembers an Israeli surgeon telling her that Palestinian laborers were “very generous” with their kidneys, and often donated to strangers in exchange for “a small honorarium.” A heart surgeon from Eastern Europe admitted his concern that medical tourism would encourage doctors from his country to harvest organs from brain-dead donors who were “not quite as dead as we might like them to be.” In these new practices, Scheper-Hughes began to understand, human organs and tissue generally moved from south to north, from the poor to the rich, and from brown-skinned to lighter-skinned people.


Results of her late 1990’s research (emphasis mine):

In the Philippines, kidney sellers she interviewed often pulled up their shirts, displaying their nephrectomy scars with evident pride. They spoke of the surgery as a sacrifice made for their families, and members of their community sometimes compared their abdominal incisions to the lance wounds Christ received on the cross. 

In Moldova, as she reported in a 2003 paper published in the Journal of Human Rights, people who had sold their kidneys were considered so morally and physically compromised that they were treated as social pariahs. “That son of a bitch left me an invalid,” one Moldovan paid donor said of his surgeon. 

Young Brazilian men who had been flown to South Africa to sell their kidneys described to Scheper-Hughes how the experience had gained them a pass into the world of tourism and medical marvels. One told her that his main regret was not having spent more time in the hospital. “There were clean sheets, hot showers, lots of food,” he recalled. As he recovered, he went down to the hospital courtyard and bought himself his first cappuccino. “It was like ambrosia,” he said. “I really felt like a big tourist.” In the end, some attested that they would make the deal again, and some regretted the decision. “They treated me OK until they got what they wanted,” another seller told her. “Then I was thrown away like garbage.”


Regarding the “transplant establishment”:

“Transplant surgeons vie only with the Vatican and its cardinals with respect to their assumption of privilege, irrefutability and of a kind of ‘divine election’ that seems to place them above (or outside) the mundane laws that govern ordinary mortals,” she wrote in one article. “Like child-molesting priests among Catholic clergy, these outlaw surgeons are protected by the corporate transplant professionals hierarchy.”


By far, the most illuminating portion of the article is an interview Scheper-Hughes secured with a retired US transplant surgeon (at a “major east coast hospital”) in January 2012 (emphasis mine):

The surgeon volunteered that he had conducted transplants later revealed to have been set up by Rosenbaum, but said that he had no direct knowledge that the donors had been paid. “In the back of my mind there is always the possibility that there is some incentive, but you can’t control it. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it.” Then he added: “I know it is illegal. We have a protocol.”


 He went on to suggest that it was likely that everyone involved at the hospital had good reason to be suspicious. “There is no question that everyone in the program felt that it would be very possible that there was some kind of incentive there. I didn’t feel that I had to be the police. As long as I don’t know and as long as I don’t have any evidence, I’m not going to deny the transplant just because I have the suspicion,” he said.


When the surgeon suggested that all of his patients did well, her tone turned stern. “I want to tell you something,” she said. “Your patients didn’t all do so well—the donors didn’t all do well,” she said, adding, “There is no dependable aftercare. They go thousands of miles away and you don’t know what happened to them. So you don’t know who dies.” The doctor seemed momentarily chastened, but he maintained that he had improved the health of patients who needed transplants and that he had done nothing wrong.


That, my friends, is everything you need to know about the US transplant industry. They know, but don’t care, that international laws are being broken. They know, but don’t care, that disadvantaged people are being used as medical supply. And they know, but don’t care, that those same people are suffering because of it. Their one and only concern is for the recipients.



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