Organ trafficking: Whose body is it, anyway?

The arrest of the Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum for selling kidneys on the black market drew attention to the lack of body parts available for transplantation through legal means.

So it’s true, said Brian Kates and William Sherman in the New York Daily News. If you need a new kidney, you can buy one—for at least $160,000. That was the price, federal authorities say, that Brooklyn businessman Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum was charging in what is apparently the first documented case of organ trafficking in U.S. history. Rosenbaum’s recent arrest—part of a massive corruption and global money-laundering scheme—“sheds a new spotlight” on a sleazy, underground network of desperate patients, scheming middlemen, and “wretchedly poor foreigners” who will literally sell their guts. Corneas, pieces of livers, and entire lungs are all available on the black market, though most of the organs sold are kidneys, since everyone has a spare. Many hospitals try to screen out “suspicious donors” whose stories about offering friends and relatives their organs sound bogus, said Lindsey Tanner in the Associated Press. Other hospitals, though, take “a look-the-other-way attitude”—especially when “a single operation can bring in tens of thousands of dollars.”

People are shocked that there’s a black market for organs right here in America, said Sally Satel in The Wall Street Journal. But I’m not. Several years ago when I needed a kidney “and had no donor in sight, I would have considered doing business with someone like Rosenbaum.” I was lucky, but many of the 100,000 or so Americans now on the waiting list for body parts aren’t. Thanks to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, which makes it illegal to buy or sell organs, the demand far exceeds the supply. The only way to end this imbalance is to offer “legitimate incentives to people who might be willing to donate.” We can legally sell our own eggs and sperm to fertility clinics, said Deborah Kotz in Why are kidneys and livers any different?

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us