Interesting stuff:

A week and a half ago, police in Johannesburg South Africa arrested fourteen people accused of operating a bootleg human-organ operation.

Apparently they would fly poor Brazilian citizens to South Africa, where they underwent surgery and had a kidney removed. They were paid between ten and thirteen thousand dollars for the procedure, and then flown back home (all expenses paid).

The kidneys were then implanted in wealthy South Africans who paid over $100,000 for the operation. After leaving the hospital, they didn’t have to worry about dialysis any more and could return to a normal life.

The Brazilian donors were all volunteers, and the money they received was often enough to buy a house, open a business, or realize other financial dreams (I imagine $13k goes farther in Brazil than in the U.S.). The South African recipients were all in dire need of a transplant and had the money to do it. And the doctors involved made a handsome profit along the way.

Everyone wins, right?

Well, it turns out there are international laws forbidding the sale of human organs. There are doubtless some moral and ethical issues. There’s the omnipresent discussion of rich versus poor, and who’s taking advantage of who.

So, the question of the day: should this sort of thing be legitimized? If everyone goes home healthy (and often wealthy) is there really a reason why it shouldn’t be allowed? Personally, I don’t have a problem with this sort of thing and in fact, it seems to me that making it illegal will accomplish two things: (1) make it more expensive and thus harder to do for those who have some money and dire medical need, and (2) make it more prone to mistakes and bungled operations, as the doctors are forced to operate underground.

There are some 83,000 people on the kidney donation list in the U.S. alone; this shortage only encourages the sort of behavior described above. If I had serious kidney problems, and knew I’d be on a list for ten years, but had the option of scraping together some cash (maybe taking out a second mortgage or whatever) and receiving the kidney of some Third World farmer who would then be the richest guy in town, I’d do it.