The Organ Stock Exchange

Could our government send the already burgeoning organ trading black market spiralling out of control?

In the wake of the donor-recipient mismatch in India, The Union health ministry has sent recommendations to the state public health department to offer cash rewards to the families of the organ donor and the hospital where the organ is retrieved, in the hope that the number of donors will increase significantly. As per the recommendations, the family of the donor will be given a reward amounting between Rs 1,00,000 and Rs 5,00,000 per year for five years, while the hospital where the organ is retrieved will get Rs 50,000.

The illegal trade of all organs generates between $840 million and $1.7 billion annually and accounts for an estimated 10% of transplanted organs globally! These organs, kidneys most commonly, are sourced primarily in low and middle-income countries from the most vulnerable populations. Although these donors (when they are compensated) are paid close to $5000, it’s a pittance compared to the $200,000 that is the average paid by the recipients of those very organs.

Although Iran is a great example of streamlined legalisation in organ donation the viability and sustainability have been questioned. By legalising the sale of kidneys from living donors, Iran has been able to avoid the pitfalls of a black market, and today, about 55% of all kidneys donated in the nation are from living donors. In the 1980s, Iran had both a shortage of legally donated kidneys and dialysis equipment to treat the growing number of patients suffering from End-stage renal disease. It did not, however, lack highly trained surgeons capable of performing organ transplants. So in 1988, the nation decided on a bold and controversial new strategy to eliminate the dangers that come with procuring or receiving an organ illegally: they made it legal for a living person to sell their kidney. Today, it is one of the few nations without an organ shortage and with a decently impressive waiting time of 5 months.

Other models of bridging the gap exist too. The “opt-out” system in Spain has received much global attention in which all citizens are automatically registered for organ donation unless they choose to state otherwise. Spain has been widely touted as one of the most successful countries in this regard because they have attempted to inculcate a behavioural change in the public at large by making organ donation a routine consideration when a patient dies, regardless of the circumstances of death. This measure was adopted in France. (Probably responsible for the extra pair of lungs that N’Golo Kante used to win them the FIFA World Cup!!)

It remains to be seen whether this reactive move in India will bridge the gap or deepen and darken the abyss. Anyone who has read ‘The Red Market’ will know about the blood and organ trade on the black market ranging from spontaneous atrocities to organised crime. That truly makes one wonder whether this move by the government augment the dilemma or help curb it?

In the meantime why chase Bitcoin when you have a kidney or a liver lobe to spare!?

Rohan D’Souza: About the Author

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