At the Heart of the Red Market

Image of a model of a heart via WikiCommons

Image of a model of a heart via WikiCommons

Three years ago, a man fainted at the international airport of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. When authorities went to his aid, the man, a Turk, said that one of his kidneys had been stolen. The incident sparked an investigation that earlier this year led to the arrest of an Istanbul surgeon, who stands accused of organ-harvesting. The surgeon is part of a larger ring of traffickers that even includes the prime minister of Kosovo, according to police. This ring lures impoverished people from eastern Turkey and central Asia to Pristina, where their organs are surgically removed and sold to wealthy patients for up to $100,000.

A new book by intrepid anthropologist and investigative journalist Scott Carney, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers, takes a look at the illicit international economy of body parts (here’s his excellent blog). Carney looks at how the legitimate medical industry has helped spawn the ghastly business. In an essay adapted from the book published in Foreign Policy magazine, Carney suggests the origins of what he calls the red market lie in the altruism that drives the blood donation industry. “Unfortunately, the anonymous, altruistic system has produced unintended consequences,” he writes. “The result is a system whose best intentions create ample opportunities for criminally minded entrepreneurs … In the age of globalization the brokers are adept at exploiting the knowledge and legal gaps between national jurisdictions to arrange just about any sort of organ acquisition, and advances in anti-rejection drugs allow people with widely diverse genetic backgrounds to swap organs. In Romania, Moldova, Turkey, and Egypt, brokers can easily acquire kidneys for $3,000 and sell them for $50,000 or more.” Here’s a longer review of the book.

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