Human Exceptionalism

Biological Colonialism: “American Vampire” Part 2

Debra J. Saunders, the syndicated columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle (better known as Secondhand Smokette), had a good column in yesterday’s paper (“American Vampire”) about the growing problem of buying and selling human organs. (This follows up on a 2006 column of the same title.) She writes:

When Malaka, an Indian tsunami refugee, agreed to sell her kidney, the organ broker told her she would receive $3,500. But after the operation, he gave her only $700–for an organ that a wealthy foreigner likely paid $40,000. “She got what she deserved,” the broker told the National Geographic Channel in an “Explorer” episode, “Inside the Body Trade,” that airs tonight.

Later, when Malaka’s son’s kidneys were failing, the doctor told her, “You gave away your kidney. Now your child needs a kidney. Who will give it to him?”

While free-market types have talked up Transplant Tourism as a nifty way for the world’s poor to barter their way out of poverty, National Geographic Channel reporter Lisa Ling told me that after visiting organ donors from two villages in India – one known as Kidneyville–“the overwhelming majority of them did not get the money they were promised.”


This is stark biological colonialism, and it is even more wrong than taking over a country and exploiting its natural resources. Debra continues:

Every year more than 6,500 people die in America waiting for transplants. Ling closes by noting, “If we all signed up to become organ donors, no one would die waiting for an organ.” Organ donations do save lives.

But just as it is wrong for Americans to die waiting for organs, it also is wrong for prisoners to die because an American needs a liver, or for a child to die because his mother sold her kidney. And it is beyond reason that in a country that passes numerous regulations on the feeding and care of livestock, people don’t want to judge those who, like vampires, troll for organs in the third world.


This is a truism: If human organs become a purchasable commodity, the rich will buy and the destitute will sell. And by any name that amounts to horrible exploitation.

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