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Organ trade

Conceptual digital artwork representing a futuristic organ bank.

Conceptual digital artwork representing a futuristic organ bank.

Credits:Oliver Burston, Wellcome Images

There are more organs required for transplant than are available, so many people are kept on waiting lists, sometimes for years. In an average year 400 people in the UK will die awaiting a transplant. Some people are so desperate that they will resort to illegal means to receive a transplant.

One of the most common organs to be transplanted is the kidney. As people can survive with only one kidney, many people from poorer nations have been persuaded to sell one of their kidneys to a wealthy donor. Most of this trade is run by criminal gangs.

These practises have led to what is known as ‘transplant tourism’, where people from wealthy nations go to poorer countries in order to receive organs. In 2004 National Geographic reported on a village in India known as ‘kidney village’ because so many of its residents had sold a kidney for the equivalent of one year's salary. It is estimated by the WHO that of the 93,000 transplants undertaken in 2005, 10% were the result of transplant tourism. Serious ethical questions about the comparative value of life in different nations arise from this practice.


M Friedlaender, `The Right to Buy and Sell a Kidney: Are we Failing Our Patients?', The Lancet, 359/9310 (2002), pp 971-973