January 12, 2009

Widespread use of illegal organs alleged

Reputable U.S. medical centers transplant kidneys and other human organs they get illegally through the black market, a university anthropologist asserts.

Surgeons take black-market kidneys from people in the world's most impoverished slums and put them into wealthy dialysis patients from the United States, Europe and Israel, Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California at Berkeley told Newsweek.

She did not identify any hospitals, but Newsweek said she cited a big Philadelphia hospital as a good place to go for brokered transplants.

Scheper-Hughes -- who spent more than a decade tracking the illegal sale of human organs across the globe -- also said patients told her they got transplants at top hospitals, with top surgeons in New York and Los Angeles.

The organ trafficking is negotiated by an elaborate network of criminals, Scheper-Hughes said.

For about $150,000, an organ broker connects a buyer and seller to a broker-friendly U.S. hospital, where surgeons are either complicit in the scheme or willing to turn a blind eye, she told Newsweek.

The organ seller typically gets a few thousand dollars, plus a chance to see a U.S. city, she said.

Buying and selling human organs is illegal in every country except Iran, Newsweek said.

Yet organ trafficking -- mostly of kidneys, but also of half-livers, eyes, skin and blood -- is flourishing, Newsweek said.

The U.N. World Health Organization estimates one-fifth of the 70,000 kidneys transplanted around the world each year come from the black market.