Organ Market Fed by India's Desperate Poor One way to make money as a poor person in India is to sell a kidney to the black market. But many people who do this say they have been cheated by brokers, who promise one price and pay another.
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Organ Market Fed by India's Desperate Poor

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Organ Market Fed by India's Desperate Poor

Organ Market Fed by India's Desperate Poor

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, the newest team sport in Southern California high schools, skateboarding.

Mr. JEFF STERN (Founder, California High School Skateboard Club): When a skateboarder gets to high school, he's not going to switch sports and go to basketball. He's not going to switch from skateboarding to football or skateboarding to baseball. And right now he has nothing to switch to.

COHEN: But first, we turn to the subject of the black market organ trade. The idea of giving a part of your body may sound scary, but imagine you and your family are living on about a dollar a day in a thatched hut in India. Since a tsunami happened you've been able to scrape by but just barely, and then you're offered a small fortune for just a few hours of your time. All you have to do is give up your kidney.

BRAND: Thousands of people in India have done just that, but there can be serious physical consequences.

COHEN: Scott Carney is an investigative journalist based in Chennai, India. He's written a series on the black market for organs which appeared in Wired News. He spoke with a number of organ donors, including a woman named Malika.

Mr. SCOTT CARNEY (Journalist): Malika lives in a small slum area on the north side of Chennai. Her room is probably about the size of most American's bathrooms. Then that's where she spends her life, with both her teenage son and her husband who's a motorcycle mechanic.

About one year ago, an organ broker named Raju(ph) approached her and said he would alleviate her poverty if she would sell him her organ. And she sold her kidney. She spent about three days in the hospital. He'd promise her $2,000. But as soon as the surgery was over he skipped out of town and she only got $700, which was the advance made that she was promised. Malika is just one of thousands of people here in Chennai who've basically had identical stories. What makes her unique is that she actually went to the police and the police actually recorded her story. Her broker was arrested and put in jail for 28 days. But the real human tragedy, it turns out, is that her son Kanon(ph) recently came down with a case of hepatitis and he's on dialysis now, and is in need of a kidney transplant.

COHEN: Malika, as you mentioned, was shortchanged for her kidney. What's the average that people are usually paid for their organs? And then how much are those organs been sold for on the black market?

CARNEY: Here in Chennai, what the organ brokers offer is about $2,500 for a kidney. But they'll only give you an advance of about $700. So these women will get the advance and they'll go to the hospital. And universally the broker will skip town after the surgery is complete, and they'll get cheated out of the money. Now, what the broker sells it for is a whole different thing. A kidney transplant operation here in Chennai goes for about $14,000. In other countries it can be as much as $85,000. And you can only guess who gets the profits.

COHEN: Well, I mean, who does? Is it the guy that is immediately brokering the deal? Or you know, are there payoffs along the way?

CARNEY: It's probably split between the brokers, and there's probably two or three different brokers. The broker who finds the willing donor, and then the broker who actually finds the patient, and then there's the doctor and the hospital administrators and the government administrators. So the profits get split between probably five or six different parties.

COHEN: How safe are the surgeries people are having to donate their organs?

CARNET: What the women tell me who've had their transplants done here is that two or three days after their transplant they're more or less kicked out of the hospital and forced to go home and tend to themselves. Now, most people say that they are unable to work afterwards.

COHEN: Do you have any sense of how many people have been selling their organs in India?

CARNEY: I'm in the Tamil Nadu state, which is on the southern side of India, and the reports that have come out have said 2,000 people have sold their kidneys in the last two years here. Tamil Nadu is probably the highest - on the higher end of the continuum. However, there are organ brokers all over the country, some who even advertise online that they will hook you up with an organ transplant if you want to fly here. You know, it's probably in the thousands per year.

COHEN: Scott, based on the reporting that you've done, have your thoughts about organ donation, your own personal organs, has that changed at all?

CARNEY: You know, to tell you truth, I'm still a little bit squeamish about it. The thought of giving my own organs after death makes me a little bit uncomfortable. Yet at the same time I also see thousands and thousands of people wrapped up in these black market scams who are having, you know, literally their flesh stolen from them. And as far as I see it, after death, if I can give my organs, that would be a better thing. And as uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I would rather that it happen to my dead body than to a live person.

COHEN: Scott Carney is an investigative journalist living in Chennai, India. He recently did a series of stories on the kidney trade for Wired News. Thanks so much for joining us, Scott.

CARNEY: Great. Thank you very much.

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