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The Dark Side of Organ Transplants

Thomas Secrest's picture
Tin Man - if I only had a heart

The dark side of our species is that regardless of the original virtue of an idea, the feculent of our societies are always ready to defile and desecrate that which is beautiful and noble. To give life to another through the donation of an organ is clearly such a noble thing. However, when supply and demand meet life and death, the dark side of our species will inevitability slither out from the shadows; and this is no less true with regard to the gift of life. Human organs are trafficked just like drugs, girls and guns.

However, before I plunge you into the darkness of organ transplants, let me start today by updating you on an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago. The article was about teenage suicide. At the time the last research I was able to find showed that teenage suicide ranked third in the leading causes of teenage deaths. First were accidents, second was homicide and third was suicide. I mentioned that suicides and homicides were very close in number. Based on some calculations I’ve done with new numbers, the ranking now needs to be changed. Accidents are still the leading cause of teenage deaths (by a lot), however, suicide is now number 2 and homicide is now third.

In yesterday's article I said that today I would write about organ donations and take a look at how death is defined. Because of the length, I will do the first today and continue with the second tomorrow.

Let me start with a few statistics. Most likely you have heard at least one appeal for organ donors. The shortage is real and every time there is a media sympathetic case, the news coverage is intense. No doubt you remember the case of Sarah Murnaghan who just recently was at the center the organ donor/recipient debate.

The most common large organ transplant is the kidney. Currently there are about 97,000 people on the waiting list. In 2012 there were 17,000 transplants performed. This means that less than 20% of the people who needed a kidney last year, got one. Of course these numbers are for the U.S. In many other countries the numbers are much worse, since they don’t have an organized donor/recipient matching program like the ones in America. A final statistic, last year almost 5,000 people died while waiting for a life-saving transplant.

I like to make sure that my readers know where my facts slide into my reasoned opinion. The transition is about to take place.

I believe that people of high character and those of low character are distributed evenly across society. I wish I could say I knew the percentages, but I don’t. This means that on the organ waiting list are people of all types. However, in particular there are people with power, money and influence and of low character. This is where the problem lies. This is why there is trafficking in human organs. If you are dieing and need a transplant, a human organ becomes the most valuable thing on the planet; more valuable than gold or diamonds. It's one time where money really can buy you, not only health, but life.

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In these situations human organs become commodities and they are bought and sold in much the same way. While money might not get you higher on the waiting list in America (and I use the words "might not" with some degree of caution), it can easily purchase an organ in India, China, Iran or Pakistan. Therefore, people with means go where their money can buy organs.

The next question becomes, where do the organs come from? The answer is both obvious and disturbing. The organs come from humans. Sometimes willingly, sometimes not. In countries like India, organ brokers offer a small amount of cash to the poorest of the poor. When you live in abject poverty, trifling sums can sound like all of Solomon's gold. I couple of shots of a local anesthetic, a quick cut, a few sutures and the kidney is gone. It will now be sold on the open market and can fetch up to $120,000.

One person goes home with a used (but very functional) kidney and continues their affluent life and the other person goes back into poverty with a few extra bucks in their pocket and one less kidney .

Kidneys are one thing; a person has two of those and can live with one, although, perhaps not a well or as long. What happens when those of low character, power and money need a heart? Clearly the story changes, as does the fate of the organ donor. When someone cuts out your heart you don’t just get up and go home.

Hearts can cost up to $300,000 dollars. However, there’s a catch; hearts don’t have a very good shelf life. They need to be transplanted quickly and it’s not something you can do in a back alley.

So, if you have all the resources to buy a heart, how do you bring it all together. That is, how do you get a highly qualified surgeon, a state of the art surgical suite, a fresh heart, large quantities of blood, a trained support staff and someone who needs a heart transplant in the same place at the same time, without the logistics of a sophisticated transplant program?

I’ll leave this question for you, although, I suspect by now, you are starting to see the dark side of the transplant industry.

Tomorrow I will take a look at what is needed to pronounce you dead and ready for harvesting.