Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Dispelling the myth. The realities of organ trafficking. Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes in interview.

There are obvious medical risks for those selling their kidneys. The after care is nearly always non-existent. Scheper-Hughes recounts a real life tale of one Brazilian seller, flown to South Africa, who the day after the operation was bundled onto an economy flight home, in obvious pain, the obligation of the transplant team finished. On top of this, in many places there are social implications from Kidney selling. Scheper-Hughes came across repeated stories of impotency or a perceived diminution of masculinity from men who had sold their kidneys. It illustrates some of the prejudices that affect those who've sold part of their physical selves. “ In Moldova it comes from the view that women, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, were readily trafficked for prostitution, and the strong healthy men were preyed upon to sell their bodies through their kidneys, and so symbolically in a village they see the men as male prostitutes. That's where all these other suggestions seem to come from, that you're impotent or you can't have children. Nobody wants their daughter to marry a kidney seller, was something I heard over and over again. And why? Because he's not really a man”.

It's hard to see a simple solution. Scheper-Hughes and Organs Watch don't have the answers, what they want is to at least open the debate. “If we think that the laws are good, that it's not good for medicine or society to allow poor people to mutilate themselves, then the laws have to be observed and at the moment they're not, and the penalties have to be severe enough that people won't do it – if it's a crime, let's treat it like a crime.” It should be pointed out that up to this point few doctors who perform these clandestine operations have been arrested. Scheper-Hughes continues “I tend to see it as a medical human rights abuse, however if people think they can come up with a system that has a donor bill of rights, has medical security for the donors, that the donors are fully informed, after all autonomy is the primary virtue of medical ethics today, the right of the individual to do anything, even to be stupid. It may be the way to go. I think it's a sad way to go, and I won't ever like it, but at least I'll feel that I've done some good in making people realise that they have some responsibility to this invisible population of kidney sellers.” Scheper-Hughes, who has written in favour of a 'militant anthropology', or one that is prepared to take on a political or moral engagement with its subjects, feels a strong tie to those on the selling end: “Much as I feel for the recipients, for their pain and their suffering, they are represented and visible. They have surplus empathy, they're in the newspapers and everybody's heart goes out to them. Nobody's heart goes out to the sellers, because they're the riff-raff of society, and not people you naturally want to embrace, but they're human beings – they need to be represented. Their body is precious to them. We talk about the gift of life. I talk about the gift of the body – instead of 'I think therefore I am', you can say ‘I'm embodied therefore I am’. To have to plunge in to yourself and sell that through which you have a personhood, and to think of your only resource as being your organs is so tragic.”

Organs Watch

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