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Is Poverty Really so Bad in Britain That People are Selling their Organs?

Is Poverty Really so Bad in Britain That People are Selling their Organs?

The media is buzzing with reports that people in the UK are now so poor that they are increasingly turning to selling their organs through sites like Facebook just to be able to afford their cost of living expenses.

The story originates with the Sunday Post which, after an investigation, claims that it has evidence people “across the country” have turned to social media sites like Facebook to find organs for sale or to sell their own organs. The Post’s reporters, posing as the brother of a woman needing a transplant, created an ad on a Facebook page that is specifically dedicated to organ sale.

They claim that, within a week of posting the ad, they had 11 offers from across the world. Due to the fact that this kind of organ sale is illegal in much of Europe, and doctors would refuse the procedure, there were many applications from abroad as well as from people living in the UK who knew that the transplant would have to be carried out in places like India or China in order to avoid the stringent checks that occur in UK procedures.

Among those willing to donate was a man from England who claimed to be a self-employed dad with three children. He was so serious that for the sum of 30,000 ($49,000) he was willing to meet in person in order to ensure the operation went ahead. Prior to that he had divulged medical information like his current health status and blood type.

Another application came from a 22-year-old man who was willing to accept 20,000 ($33,000) for one of his kidneys. He was doing this, he reportedly told the Post, so that he could afford to travel with his pregnant wife back to Hungary where they were born. The Post notes that the desperate young man has since posted an ad on the site to sell his kidney “as soon as possible.”

The Post also details that on exploring the page, it found a number of recent ads from Britons who were posting ads saying they were willing to sell organs for the chance at getting their hands on money they apparently desperately needed. This included a mother from Hampshire who posted her blood type and the fact that she’s in possession of a valid passport.

To be clear, Facebook doesn’t endorse this kind of use of its site and it does breach Facebook’s terms of use which prohibits using the website’s pages and groups features for illegal purposes, which this most certainly is. Facebook does remove pages like this but obviously as they can be recreated relatively easily, it is almost impossible to nix them all.

The World Health Organization has released a statement about this story, with Luc Noel telling the post that “Your Facebook experience is revealing. It demonstrates the vulnerability of some people and the power of easy money. This is one of the reasons to prohibit payment. Meeting patients’ needs also demands that there should not be any divide created by financial incentives.”

Some groups, and indeed some newspapers, have taken this story as an example of the desperation global poverty is creating and, in particular, the hardships that the current British government’s austerity measures and welfare rollbacks have created. Is this fair?

While there is plenty of evidence that austerity is forcing the poor into deeper poverty and many in the so-called lower middle class to slide, there is no concrete evidence that the poor are increasingly turning to black market organ sale as a means to financial solvency. However, we can take a broader view and say that for the desperate, organ sale may seem like a reasonable, if not attractive prospect. It carries serious risks, however.

The reason why organ sale is not permitted in much of the world isn’t just because it raises troubling ethical questions. It’s because without careful medical controls and checks, the donor and recipient stand to seriously and even fatally jeopardize their health, not to mention that they could be contracting/spreading any number of diseases during the process. In a black market procedure there wouldn’t, for instance, be the stringent waiting times and checks that are designed to weed out those donors with HIV/AIDS or active cancers.

It does allow us to talk, too, about how more needs to be done to reduce waiting times for organs. Currently in the UK waiting times for the average person in need of an organ is about three years. That gap can see many a patient’s condition seriously worsen and can reduce the chances that they will make a full recovery (or as near to full as can be expected). People with rare blood or tissue types can expect to wait even longer than that, and sadly some will die before they ever find a match.

There’s also the fact that there’s a significant shortage of viable organs, with latest estimates suggesting around three people dying every day due to the shortage. This is particularly sad when, say for donor kidneys, there is a system in place to provide living donations, but relatively few people are willing to go through the procedure. Due to the financial climate, they probably cannot afford to either, given that it will usually require time off work.

So is Britain so strapped for cash that people are having to sell their organs? As above, it would take a systematic analysis to show us the true pattern of whether attempts to sell organs on the black market have increased significantly under the current economic situation.

Should we be concerned though that people are turning to social media to sell parts of their body because they feel they have no other choice? Certainly, and, poverty and health campaigners say, actively engaging with the problem is the only way to ensure this kind of practice doesn’t continue.


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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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1:00PM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

I'm British and I normally watch the news. How come I've never heard of this??? I suspect an attention-grabbing news idea that ran away with the truth...

2:06PM PDT on Mar 17, 2014

This is a very unusual solution for earning the almighty $ or GBP as the case may be. However, think of the desperate measures that people are taking here to stay alive or at least what they consider to be living.

What is the real reason though? We have a false economy so that people are driven to all sorts of unusual solutions in order to survive.

9:28PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014


3:21PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014


1:55PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

Thank you for this very interesting article.

12:19PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

I know few who could sell their brain as long as they keep the brain stem, they never use he other parts anyway.

12:07PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

Not many organs you could choose from. They're all kinda vital!

10:09AM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

Sorry i'm not buying it.

9:34PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

I'm not so sure that one Hungarian actually would represent the people of the UK period, so what's the point of that story? Since selling organs is illegal in the UK, I really wonder how a desparately impoverished person would expect to travel clear to India to sell an organ. Something sounds a bit fishy there.

8:35PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

is this for real?

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