Two sides of the same coin: Illegal Organ Trafficking

Organ Trafficking: Organ Trafficking Ukrainian market firm investigation by Andrew Pavlovsky & Organs Across Borders by Dalhoff & Tales from the Organ trade (HBO)

The documentaries shed light on the sensitive and disturbing topic of illegal organ trafficking. There are several factors one has to consider in this global issue. Many people play a crucial role in the rise of this industry: The suffering patient and their ethical dilemma, the desperate donor in poverty and the ruthless trafficker are just a few influencers. These documentaries focus on how people selling of organs black market is cross border.

On the one hand, “Organ trafficking Ukrainian market firm investigation” is about an investigation about organ sellers, buyers and surgery by a journalist, Pavlovsky. Pavlovsky himself investigates the cruel black market of the organ trafficking by listing himself as a seller of his kidney. He gets insight of the whole procedures and conducted interviews with other donors on the way stating from his contact with the intertwined network of traffickers to waiting for the surgery in a luxurious hotel waiting in Turkey.

On the other hand, the short movie of “Organs Across Borders” shows different people who are on opposite ends of the organ transplant market. On one side a young man, knowing that he might die due to the long transplant waiting list. He talks about the ethical dilemma of going abroad and receiving a transplant illegally. Where would people get it from? A poor family in Eastern Europe represents the other side of the not so shiny coin. Survival has pushed then to the extend to sell their body parts.

Moreover, the documentary “Tales from the Organ trade” looks at ‘value chain’ of the organ trade: donors (sellers), doctors and other middlemen involved, and patients. People from every step of the process were interviewed first hand by the documentary team. Perhaps the most interesting take-away from this film was that everybody thought they were doing the ‘right’ thing. The sellers were poor and to them selling a kidney provided a quick ticket out of poverty. The doctors genuinely thought they were ‘heroes’ saving people’s lives in situations where the law prevented it. And the patients were often wealthier western individuals in emotionally dire situations confronted with a moral dilemma: buy a kidney or die. Those who bought kidneys illegally were convinced that they were helping poor people by providing them with much needed funds. The documentary also briefly touches on the debate of providing monetary compensation/legalizing the organs trade and whether or not this could provide a viable solution to the many sufferings cause by the black market. Arguments for legalization and providing compensation say that these solutions would help the government regulate and thus also provide incentives to donors which would eventually reduce the black market share.

There are many similar issues that all these documentaries address. Firstly, the morality of all involved is very ambiguous. While some think that they are doing the right thing, some have their internal ethical questionable predicament of perusing the dark path of illegal organ trade. Secondly, the traffickers feed of the poor who are being ruthlessly exploited, unaware of the implication of the surgery. The economic gap is very real: the rich are saved and the poor are stuck in a devil’s spiral. One other aspect is that people who needs the organ normally have to pay a huge amount of money, more or less $150.000 but on the other hand, people who sell their organ just get $5.000. Most part of the money just go to middle people who organize everything, not to the hospital and the doctor.

What are the counter measures that could prevent illegal organ trafficking? While some argue that to further regulate the market and not turn a blind eye, other push on the fact that it is a supply and demand issue that could be resolved by enforcing the harvest of brain-dead people.


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