Austerity creates an organlegging bubble

As economic collapse and austerity settle over Europe, criminal gangs have found a lucrative trade in brokering the sale of organs from the desperate poor to the dying rich. In his New York Times feature, Dan Bilefsky opens with the story of Pavle Mircov and his partner Daniella, Serbians who are trying to sell their kidneys so that they can feed and educate their teenage children. The sale of "kidneys, lungs, bone marrow or corneas" is rampant in former Soviet states, but it's also booming in Spain, Italy and Greece -- countries where mandated austerity has stripped away the social safety net at the very moment in which the economy has collapsed and unemployment has spiked (in Spain, youth unemployment is over 50 percent).

I really came to understand this subject better through my reading of The Red Market, by Scott Carney, an excellent book on the sale of human tissues around the world. Though it seems like Mr Carney may have to write a new chapter for the econopocalypse.

Trade in organs in Serbia is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But that is not deterring the people of Doljevac, a poor municipality of 19,000 people in southern Serbia, where the government refused an attempt by residents to register a local agency to sell their organs and blood abroad for profit.

Violeta Cavac, a homemaker advocating for the network, said that the unemployment rate in Doljevac was 50 percent and that more than 3,000 people had wanted to participate. Deprived of a legal channel to sell their organs, she said, residents are now trying to sell body parts in neighboring Bulgaria or in Kosovo.

“I will sell my kidney, my liver, or do anything necessary to survive,” she said.

Hunched over his computer in Kovin, about 25 miles from Belgrade, Mr. Mircov showed a reporter his kidney-for-sale advertisement, which included his blood type and phone number.

“Must sell kidney. Blood group A,” the ad said. “My financial situation is very difficult. I lost my job, and I need money for school for my two children.”

Black Market for Body Parts Spreads Among the Poor in Europe


  1. Capitalism is a bitch ain’t it?  Free markets and all….

    I’m waiting for the return to Dickensian times so I can start a body removal service –  “Bring out yer dead!”

  2. Jonathan Swift came to mind for me. It’s not eating babies, yet, but it’s almost as horrific an example of the  sick, ghastly state of the masses, thanks to the ever-fatter fat cats who occasionally look down at the rest of us from their cozy balconies. (Who ARE those fucking people anyway, and why is so little being done to take back what they continue to steal?)

  3. Come on DARPA when is Skynet going live?  We need a horrific external global problem to unite mankind…cause obviously our  own societies failing around us isn’t going a good job of it.

    1. A famous Trekie has been saying something like that for a while, but people dismiss him ’cause he is not the head of a bank or anything, all he has is a Nobel.

  4. Organlegging is a weird compound to come up with.  Bootlegging referred to sneaking booze in to camp strapped to your leg inside your boot so it would be more difficult to detect.   

    Organ bootlegging would be more accurate although the picture it paints in one’s mind is a bit unsanitary.

    1. I like it. 

      Language is always evolving, and part of that process is the morphing of words into new ones, and their movement away from original meanings. 

      I also like Corey’s portmanteau term, organlegging, because of its euphonious echo of a relevant, well-known term, organ doning (which is also called organ donation, but not always).

      1.  Organlegging is probably a reference to the Larry Niven short stories, the first of which postulated that capital punishment would be instituted, on behalf of the rich, for ever-more minor offenses until (as the story had), running a red light would get you harvested for parts.

        1. Thanks Rob, you saved me the trouble. Niven also predicted the idea of flash mobs, and many other things on their way to becoming true.

  5. People donate corneas while they are still alive? And if so, they are choosing to be blind? Or do they donate just one? I don’t understand. I have bilateral transplants, donated by the parents from their 6 year old son who died in a car accident. 

    1. Lose your sight in one eye or starve to death.

      I was at work once when a messenger came up and handed me two specimen containers, each one holding an eye labeled 8 year-old girl bicycle accident.

  6. I like how Cory associates everything with “austerity” now. 

    This organ trade has been going on for many, many years and has nothing to do with Europe now trying to within its means. 

    1. And China will execute a prisoner who has been type-matched to you in order to deliver a fresh kidney on demand. Japanese people have been going to China for this for a long time, as the organ donation rate in Japan is very low due to cultural prejudice.

      1.  Must ask for sauce.

        This isn’t at all unbelievable, but still, it’s a bold claim, and it warrants something.

  7. I’d give my right nut to make money off this …. 
    and yeah, Larry Niven wrote about ‘organlegging’ years and years ago ….

  8. As a matter of fact, I’d double-check this story.

    Point is, I live in Italy and, our lurid press notwithstanding, there hasn’t been any report of stolen organs at all – not even in the sleaziest magazines and websites. Given this, I would tend to doubt the reports from other countries as well…

  9. There are extensive arguments for legal organ markets that have roots in the practical benefits and protection for both the sellers and receivers of organs. Prohibiting market activity in something for which there will always be a demand has proven tragic for a product as harmless as marijuana. The results are (while not on the same scale) even more tragic when the product literally represents a life or death for all the same reasons.

    Unrelated to the above argument I think that it is important to point out that it’s a perennial fallacy people make, in thinking that by taking away someone else’s terrible option that they make their lives better and not more desperate.

    1. A reasonable living is just as easy to provide for people and would end organ markets.  If making lives better is the goal, DO THAT and don’t imagine that organ markets are anything other than grotesque.

  10. Thanks for the shout out Cory.  Not a month goes by where I don’t learn about another market for human bodies or body parts. The recent scandals in eastern europe are just part of a troubling pattern of technology outpacing ethics.  One thing that I’ve learned after six years studying organ markets is that no matter what human flesh always moves upwards, never down, the societal hierarchy.  

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