Body Shop

Some of the ghosts you encounter this Halloween may not be completely together. They may be looking for their plundered parts.Move over Stephen King. Recent advances in transplant-retention drugs have created a booming black market in working components lifted from human bodies.India and China have been called "organ bazaars" in the international press. There, clients unable or unwilling to risk waiting for lawful organ donations from family members or the newly deceased may arrange kidney or other transplants from equally desperate donors.In India, a country where the average monthly working wage lingers at $13, donors are lining up to sell their "extra" parts. According to the Washington D.C.-based Trade and Environment Database, which monitors global trade for American policymakers, in some Indian cities 95 percent of "donated" organs are being sold to a clientele from "advanced" countries where improved living standards have cut the numbers of dead and dying donors.India's Voluntary Health Association estimates that each year more than 2,000 people there cash in their corneas and kidneys. Clients typically pay $2,000 to $3,000 U.S. for a transplantable kidney. Corneas go for $4,425.If you thought Asian "sex tours" were exploitative, check out the "kidney tour" scam that hit India two years ago. In January, 1995, Delhi customs officers discovered that body parts brokers had persuaded hundreds of donors to travel abroad for the removal and resale of their kidneys. Later that month, residents of a leper colony were found selling their kidneys in transplant transactions.At least they were eager volunteers. At month's end, Indian cops in the southern city of Bangalore also busted doctors who had swiped kidneys from nearly 1,000 unsuspecting patients who thought the physicians were "removing blood". The purloined kidneys were headed for patients in the Middle and Far East.The resulting public outcry prompted the Indian Congress to pass The Transplantation of Human Organs Act. The 1995 law bans all organ transplants, except those donated by immediate family members of "brain-stem dead" corpses.Still, the trade continues to be tolerated by some Indian states -- though clients with more money than scruples may be getting less than a new lease on life. The "Los Angeles Times" estimates that at least $7.8 million has so far changed hands in over 4,000 kidney transplants performed in Bombay -- where HIV positive patients have been found selling kidneys to pay their own medical costs."Corporate donations" has now assumed a grisly new meaning. Glenn Baek, a Trade and Environment Database researcher, found that "the biggest participants in the trade are unscrupulous Western pharmaceutical companies seeking to profit from marketing products derived from the procurement of human body parts".In Germany, hospital workers were found smuggling human organs off the autopsy tables. The German newspaper "Der Spiegel" also reported that drug companies have bought tens of thousands of meninges membranes. The membrane surrounding the human brain and spinal cord produces a costly medication used in skin transplants.Whatever happened to the notion of my body, my self? Do willing donors trapped in poverty's noose have the right to sell bits of their bodies for some economic breathing room? What about less-willing repositories of human spare parts?Chinese prisoners who have been worked to the bone making many of the cheap goods for sale in local stores can still take their worn-out skeletons to the grave. But their organs are routinely removed at death -- reportedly for sale by the state.Since hearts, livers and lungs can only be taken from cadavers, the temptation to expedite this turnover appears to be proving irresistible to China's new capitalists and aging communist officials. Washington has accused China of forcing prisoners to "donate" their organs. Human Rights Watch Asia goes further, claiming that up to 3,000 organs are snipped from executed -- as well as "not-quite-dead" Chinese prisoners each year.You didn't want to hear this, did you? If you don't want to hear it again, try venting your spleen by demanding a Canadian call for an international ban on this gruesome trade. But anyone still buying Chinese products after Tiananmen Square may need a compassion transplant. Check the labels of your imported "bargains" -- they may be costing their makers more than you can afford.


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