Wed Jan 30, 2008

Kidney Theft in India

There’s a long-standing urban legend about where you meet an attractive person in a bar, they buy you a drink, and the next thing you know you wake up in a bath of ice with a pain in your lower back and a note telling you to get to a hospital. One of the reasons this story is just a story is that in order to usefully extract someone’s kidney for transplant, a whole lot of stuff has to be organized beforehand, and you need to have a lot of skilled people working together against a hard time constraint—too many, really, to quietly and reliably pull something like this off.

On the other hand:

Mr. Mohammed was the last of about 500 Indians whose kidneys were removed by a team of doctors running an illegal transplant operation, supplying kidneys to rich Indians and foreigners, police officials said. A few hours after his operation last Thursday, the police raided the clinic and moved him to a government hospital. … Many of the donors were day laborers, like Mr. Mohammed, picked up from the streets with the offer of work, driven to a well-equipped private clinic, and duped or forced at gunpoint to undergo operations. Others were bicycle rickshaw drivers and impoverished farmers who were persuaded to sell their organs, which is illegal in India.

Although several kidney rings have been exposed in India in recent years, the police said the scale of this one was unprecedented. Four doctors, five nurses, 20 paramedics, three private hospitals, 10 pathology clinics and five diagnostic centers were involved, Mohinder Lal, the police officer in charge of the investigation, said. “We suspect around 400 or 500 kidney transplants were done by these doctors over the last nine years,” said Mr. Lal, the Gurgaon police commissioner.

I’d be interested to see how many suppliers were straightforwardly lied to about what they were getting into, or otherwise forced to undergo operations, and how many were offered money first (and paid afterwards). Unlike some other documented cases of organ sales, this seems less like an illegal but functioning market and more like a criminal racket founded on fraud.