Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Red Market

Scott Carney is an investigative journalist who up to now has been published in magazines like Wired, Outside, Mother Jones, etc. His first book is called The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers. The subtitle lets you know what his book is about. I came across it in Books and Culture where it was reviewed. Sounded interesting so I kindled it. It's a disturbing book. I had never given much thought to organ donations. I never needed one and I didn't know anyone personally who did. I had read about the heroic stories of someone donating his kidney to a friend or family member. I had heard the pleas to give the gift of life and donate your organs when you die. It never occurred to me to wonder where all the organs donated come from. Obviously, there are not enough car wrecks with people in them who have decided to donate their organs when they die to supply the need for organs. And turns out the supply is unlimited because most of the organs come from illegal or unethical sources. Carney spends most of his time in Asia and India and he has identified whole villages where women have sold their kidneys so they can survive. Organ brokers buy these organs, pay the donors a small amount (often promising much more later and never come through with it), and then sell the organs at a much marked up price. Then, the hospital where the transplant is done and the doctor who does it receive huge fees from the organ recipient. And the whole time the recipient never has a clue (well he or she has a clue if they read Carney's book) where the organ that saved his or her life came from. But it is really a simple question: where do all the organs come from to meet the ever increasing need for organs? China is only one of the countries that has a government website advertising organs for sale. Where do they get all these organs from? Carney makes a pretty good case that most of them come from prisoners in China's penal system. We even outsource our need for organs to China!

I never knew much about international adoption either. I knew people who had adopted children from third world countries. I had heard stories about children being kidnapped by Westerners allegedly to "save" them from orphanages and bringing them to a better life in the West. Some of these so called "kidnappings" were done by Christian agencies. Usually, the motive of offering these parentless children a better life in the West seemed admirable. And it is for the most part. But, Carney raises disturbing questions. He tells stories about children who have been kidnapped and then sold to orphanages for a few hundred dollars and then the orphanage turns around and sells the child on the international adoption market for thousands of dollars. Of course, no one calls it selling children. It is called paying the adoption fees. But, why does it cost so much money to give a child from an orphanage a new life with an American family? It can end up costing thousands of dollars. Where does the money go? Who gets paid the big bucks? How does a family know where the child came from? So called privacy regulations now make it impossible to track the family origins of an adopted child. That makes it possible for the Red Market in child trafficking to operate. Carney says that most adoptive parents want a child who has spent less than two years in an orphanage - for obvious reasons. So orphanages need a regular supply of younger children to adopt out if they are going to stay in business.

He is not saying that all organ donations are unethical or every adoption is suspect. He is saying that the sources of the blood, the bones, the organs, and the children that are in the supply chain to this country can be questionable at least and unethical or illegal at worst. Let the recipient beware (some people have the attitude I need an organ, you have one for me, I don't care where it came from!) and exercise great caution in the search process. There is a lot of corruption out there in the supply chain! (Check out