September 8th, 2011

India introduces new law to stem organ “tourist” trafficking

Pakistan - Illegal Organ Trade - Kidney Donors

“I have often heard [patients say] ‘why should I put someone I love at risk when I can just buy a kidney?” — Lawrence Cohen, Where It Hurts: Indian Material for an Ethics of Organ Transplantation

Despite the passing of laws forbidding organ sales, socioeconomically vulnerable people in the global south continue to sell parts of their body to survive.

In 1994, India’s Parliament passed the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA) to make organ sales illegal. Although superficially beneficial, the lived outcomes of this action were anything but advantageous.

“As procedures for evaluating legitimate exception were standardized,” Cohen states, “physicians, brokers, and patients’ associations found ways to coach sellers and other persons who might be considered vulnerable to coercion [for the approval process].”

After THOA was passed, clinics and brokers organizing international organ transplantation began targeting “Indian-looking” donors.

On August 29, 2011, India passed the Transplantation of Human Organs Amendment bill to stem illegal organ trafficking and help would-be donor recipients.

“Recently, India has witnessed a steady ‘tourist’ traffic of organ-seekers from West Asia and even Europe.” For this reason, “There is an urgent need to stop illegal organ transplants in the country. A large proportion of transplant patients are from the upper and middle classes, and there is no shortage of money to keep a nexus of agents and health professionals raking it in. Profits are stupendous because most donors are driven to the act by poverty. Regrettably, the illiterate poor are often the victims of unscrupulous agents.” — Dr. Pascoal Carvalho, The Pontifical Academy for Life

The legal regulations of organ sales in South India permit transplantation “if donors [are] related to recipients in one of four permitted ways: as parents, children, siblings, or spouses.”

Despite the lack of language about gender in India’s law, the transplantation industry is disproportionately affecting women.

As Nancy Scheper-Hughes documents, however, “though fathers and brothers talk about selling kidneys to rescue dowry-less daughters or sisters, in fact most kidney sellers are women.”

Children, too, are often victims of organ trafficking. According to the World Health Organization, 65,000 children each year are targeted for organ sales.

According to Dr. Carvalho, demand for organs continuously outstrips supply “by a conservative factor of two to one.” Such a market grants liver donors in India a maximum payment of $ 1,650. Buyers in Europe and the United States, on the other hand, pay up to $8,500 per organ, an increase of nearly eight-fold.





About the Author

Erin Brodwin
Erin Brodwin is a freelance multimedia journalist specializing in urban and environmental reporting. She currently works for the NYCity News Service, a student-powered initiative of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. A Southern California transplant to New York City, Erin has worked as a Student Director of the Student Sustainability Center at the University of California, San Diego, where she was instrumental in writing policy which made UCSD one of the first Fair Trade Certified campuses in the nation. Erin’s eye for design, her background in critical race and gender studies, and her passion for all things sustainable has taken her to places like the City of Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board, where she lead their Communications division, and Goodwill Industries International, where she worked as a grant writer and provided vocational services to low-income residents of East Los Angeles. Erin speaks English and Spanish and has lived and studied in Southern California, Morelia, Mexico, Tarragona, Spain, and Salvador, Brazil. She currently resides in New York City. You can view her portfolio (although it's still a work-in-progress!) at


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