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The Market for Body Parts Spreads in Europe

We at Via Meadia are always on the watch for tales of science fiction come true. Sometimes they’re cause for wonder and amazement—other times, they’re cause for alarm. A global black market for human body parts falls into the latter category.

The NYT reports a story not for the faint of heart:

Facing grinding poverty, some Europeans are seeking to sell their kidneys, lungs, bone marrow or corneas, experts say. This phenomenon is relatively new in Serbia, a nation that has been battered by war and is grappling with the financial crisis that has swept the Continent. The spread of illegal organ sales into Europe, where they are gaining momentum, has been abetted by the Internet, a global shortage of organs for transplants and, in some cases, unscrupulous traffickers ready to exploit the economic misery.

Sci-fi author Larry Niven writes about the crime of “organlegging,” where people in the future will kill others in order to harvest their organs. We’re not quite there yet; so far the sellers are voluntary. But life is cheap in much of this world and organs are valuable. In Niven’s universe, what stopped organlegging was the development of alternative sources of supply: once human organs grown in labs from your own DNA were available, the illegal market collapsed.

That’s likely what will happen in real time as well, but in the meantime, the state of Europe bears watching. What is happening to the poor in countries like Serbia and Moldova is truly unnerving. Poverty is driving the organ trade as well as Europe’s vibrant post Cold War industry of sex slavery.

While much of Europe made the transition to reasonably prosperous market economies after the Cold War, some countries and some regions did not. With the EU almost entirely wrapped up in the euro crisis, with the US preoccupied by the more dramatic events in the Middle East and Africa, to say nothing of its increased focus on Asia, there is little interest around the world in helping those trapped in these failing states.


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  • Gary

    Robin Cook’s book Coma (later a film) anticipated this. I think he wrote the book in the early 1980s. Now it’s actually happening. Ugh.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “there is little interest around the world in helping those trapped in these failing states.”

    A people get the Government they deserve, so why should other peoples feel they need to do something to help those in failing states? Is it even possible to help them, without invading and taking control of the failed state? Look at how successful America has been in Iraq and Afghanistan for an example of the limited power of even the most powerful Country to affect the culture of a nation even with an invasion. So how much help can any nation really give to these failed states, when they have no power to affect anything?

    There are many backward cultures in the world, and even with the example of American Culture to lead them, the evolution of those cultures will be glacially slow. All the more advanced cultures can do is cheer them on, and congratulate them when they get it right.

  • Maid Abusing Socialist

    Makes you wonder why the Mexican drug cartels don’t add this to their criminal portfolio. If you’re taking the time to decapitate and dismember any and all, it seems a logical next step…

  • Corlyss

    With AIDS still stalking the crossroads of poverty and overpopulation, don’t think I’ll be trolling those organ marts anytime soon.

  • Luke Lea

    “Sci-fi author Larry Niven writes about the crime of “organlegging,” where people in the future will kill others in order to harvest their organs.”

    Been happening in China for a long time. Google Falun Gang and organ harvesting.

  • TheRadicalModerate

    It should also be pointed out that, in Niven’s stories, capital punishment extended down to moderately serious traffic offenses and all of the condemned went into the organ banks. An interesting twist on universal health care…

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