Organ harvesting

Organ harvesting
Organ harvesting
MeSH D020858

Organ harvesting refers to the removal, preservation and use of human organs and tissue from the bodies of the recently deceased to be used in surgical transplants on the living. Though mired in ethical debate and heavily regulated, organ donation in the United States has largely become an accepted medical practice.

Historically there has been contention about the legality and morality regarding organ harvesting. One of the earliest recorded examples of organ theft are the Burke and Hare murders in Edinburgh in 1828, where the victims bodies were to be used as cadavers in medical schools[1] and the copycat London burkers in London in 1831. The modern view of organ harvesting is due in part to the more than 105,000 people on the waiting list for solid organ transplants. Experts[who?] suggest that each of us could save or help as many as fifty people by being an organ and tissue donor.

A main reason for organ harvesting is to do with the extreme difficulty with which organs can be preserved postmortem, usually requiring a brain dead but still functionally alive donor, and the long waiting lists for available organs. Historically organ harvesting did not occur in an organized manner: the practice was occasionally advanced as a theory into mysterious disappearances or murders, and is then advanced by sensationalist news reports, followed by word-of-mouth promotion as an urban legend in which the practice is linked with a nefarious underground network of organized crime, and also promoted in horror movies and thriller movies. The United Nations, working with the Council of Europe, has released a detailed study of the fact and the fictions surrounding organ theft.[2]


Organ theft events

Organ harvesting being a general fiction, however, has not stopped some real-world entities from some larger organizations and governments from pursuing the practice for political or tactical reasons. In The Hunt: Me and War criminals, Carla Del Ponte claims that Kosovo Albanians smuggled human organs of kidnapped Serbs after the Kosovo war ended in 1999. The EU rule-of-law mission uncovered no evidence to back these claims up while no evidence was presented by the Serbian government.[3]

It has been confirmed by news sources that the organs of a number of death row prisoners in China were, at least at one point, taken for transplant after their executions, on a for-profit basis, for both foreign nationals and Chinese nationals; it was unclear whether the prisoners had given their permission to have their organs harvested after death.[4] The Chinese justice system is alleged to work very quickly for those sentenced to death, not allowing significant time for appeals, which then led to allegations that the entire justice system has been corrupted by a government approved system of organ theft[citation needed]. Until 2006 the Chinese government did not have a specific law in place outlawing the acquisition of organs without express consent; now such a law exists, but even with this new statute, other conflicting statutes remain, such as that which allows Chinese state prisons to use prisoners in whatever way that prison deems beneficial to the State[citation needed]. Meanwhile, in July 2006, former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and Human Rights Lawyer David Matas published a controversial[citation needed] report concluding that "...large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners are victims of systematic organ harvesting, whilst still alive...".[5]

Organ stealing is also know to occur in Budapest

In December 2009, Israel admitted that, in the 1980s and 1990s, there had been organ harvesting of skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from dead bodies of Israeli soldiers, citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute without the permission from relatives.[6] The revelation was a consequence of the Aftonbladet-Israel controversy.[7][8] Israel states that the institute in question ended such practice sometime around the year 2000.

On 6 August 2010, the Ukraine police arrested 12 people, some of them Israeli, in Ukraine on suspicion of selling human organs.[9]

Organ sale

Although illegal in most countries, the sale of organs is common.[10][11][12] Accurate statistics are hard to come by, but in March 2007, one estimate was that 5 to 10% of the world's kidney transplants involved compensation.[13] Although many reports that this trade has involved coercion or kidnapping (thus becoming organ theft) have turned out to be just rumors,[14] some cases have involved theft, for example the 2008 kidney ring run by doctor Amit Kumar in India.[15]

Examples in fiction

  • The post-apocalyptic film Repo! The Genetic Opera deals with the concept of organ theft being legalized, where assassins known as Repo men kill people for their organs when they fail to keep up with the payment of the organs they had purchased. Similarly, the future depicted in the film Repo Men features reclaimers of artificial organs, which are taken back from the recipient should they fail to keep up with their payments for the implantation surgery.
  • The manga series Deadman Wonderland depicts prisoners being farmed for organs depending upon the results of a twisted slot machine, which is used for the purpose of removing an organ or body part (ie. heart, eyes, etc.) from an individual should they lose one of the matches that occur at the titular theme park.
  • In the film Crank: High Voltage, the protagonist is subjected to organ theft by having his heart removed and he goes on a path of vengeance against those who stole his heart and replaced it with an artificial one.
  • The flash cartoon series Charlie the Unicorn depicts the protagonist having his kidney stolen by the two unicorns who convince him to go on adventures with him, much to Charlie's chagrin.
  • The music video for the song "I'm Only Human Sometimes" on the William Control album, Noir, is about organ theft. The video's plot follows William through a night on the town during which he meets two attractive women that drug him, seemingly sexually assault him, and remove what appears to be one of his kidneys. He wakes up the next morning crudely stitched up in the bath tub of a motel room, visibly in pain, and holding a note that advises him to call 9-1-1.
  • Season 4 of US TV show Nip/Tuck is based around an illegal kidney (and on occasion other organs) harvesting network.
  • In the movie Turistas many characters are the victims of an organ-theft network in Brazil.
  • The films Coma and Death Warrant details organ harvestings as part of the black market trade.
  • The Magic: The Gathering villains called Phyrexians, a group of flesh and metal beings, capture and occasionally harvest organs and body parts from their victims to repurpose them or steal body parts from other victims (eyes, limbs, etc.) and add them onto other Phyrexian monstrosities. One major example is the Blue Aligned Phyrexians led by Jin Gitaxias, who practices these acts frequently.

See also


  1. ^ The Worlds of Burke and Hare date accessed: 14 December 2009.
  2. ^ Trafficking in organs, tissues, and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs date accessed: 14 December 2009.
  3. ^ Marzouk, Lawrence (7 May 2010). "EULEX Uncovers No Evidence KLA Trafficked Organs". Balkan Insight. Retrieved 8 May 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ BBC News - Organ sales 'thriving' in China 27/09/06
  5. ^ David Matas and David Kilgour (31 January 2007), An Independent Investigation into Allegations of organ Harvesting of Falun gong practitioners in china
  6. ^ Israel harvested organs without permission, officials say, CNN
  7. ^ Black, Ian (2009-12-21). "Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  8. ^ Aftonbladet: Israel tog organ – utan tillstånd
  9. ^ "12 nabbed for organ trafficking" Jerusalem Post August 8, 2010
  10. ^ International Summit On Transplant Tourism And Organ Trafficking (Sep 2008), "The Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism", Clinical journal of the American Society of Nephrology : CJASN 3 (5): 1227–31, doi:10.2215/CJN.03320708, ISSN 1555-9041, PMID 18701611 
  11. ^ Nullis-Kapp Clare (2004 September), "Organ trafficking and transplantation pose new challenges", Bulletin of the World Health Organization 82 (9): 715, PMC 2622992, PMID 15628213, 
  12. ^ Kumar, S. (2003), "Police uncover large scale organ trafficking in Punjab", BMJ 326: 180b, doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7382.180/b, PMC 1125055, PMID 12543823, 
  13. ^ Budiani-Saberi, Da; Delmonico, Fl (May 2008), "Organ trafficking and transplant tourism: a commentary on the global realities.", American journal of transplantation 8 (5): 925–9, doi:10.1111/j.1600-6143.2008.02200.x, ISSN 1600-6135, PMID 18416734 
  14. ^ Jeneen Interlandi (Jan 19, 2009), "Not Just Urban Legend", Newsweek, 
  15. ^ Sara Sidner and Tess Eastment (January 29, 2008), "Police hunt for doctor in kidney-snatching ring", CNN, 

Further reading

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