'The Red Market:' Scott Carney's exposé of the worldwide traffic in blood and body parts
Scott Carney's disturbing "The Red Market: on the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers" is a chilling look at the worldwide traffic in blood and body parts, as the poor give up flesh and blood so that the rich can have better lives.
Special to The Seattle Times
'The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers'
by Scott Carney
William Morrow, 254 pp., $25.99
For the past couple of decades, an email has made the rounds warning about kidney theft. A lone traveler is slipped a mickey in a bar, as the story goes, and wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with a note instructing him to call 911.
It's an urban legend that the truth-seeking site Snopes.com traced to a 1989 splash in the British press about a Turkish man who claimed his kidney was stolen. It turned out he sold the kidney voluntarily — in fact, he took out an ad seeking a buyer.
But people do give up body parts every day, often for too little money and sometimes completely against their will. Scott Carney documents the international market for flesh in his chilling new book, "The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers."
He shows how transparency about donors and recipients could save lives and demonstrates the obvious but disturbing truth that it is overwhelmingly the world's poor who donate their kidneys, lend the use of their wombs and have their children stolen for adoption, so that the rich can lead better lives.
In India, some hospitals and organ brokers are making money on the misfortunes of people relocated to a refugee camp following the 2004 tsunami. Without basic supplies like fishing nets, they can no longer make a living and have turned to selling their kidneys.
Many end up sick and still poor. One woman Carney interviewed was promised $3,500, but the organ broker paid just $900 and disappeared while she was recovering from surgery. A lasting pain from the operation prevents her from getting the only work available, in construction.
"In other parts of India people say that they are going to Malaysia or the United States with a glimmer of hope in their eyes. In Tsunami Nagar people speak that way about selling their kidneys," one villager told Carney.
His chapter on blood donations strikes closer to home.
Although Carney focuses on blood sales in India, where police have found men kept against their will as blood donors, he shows the disastrous effects of blood sales in the United States as well.
From the 1940s to the 1960s, some U.S. blood collection centers paid for blood, often attracting destitute donors who were unconcerned about passing along diseases. In 1962, the Federal Trade Commission ruled against a donation-only blood bank, saying it and hospitals were "illegally joined in a conspiracy to restrain commerce in whole human blood."
The American Medical Association fought the ruling and eventually won, but it "remained constantly on the minds of many in the medical community who cautioned that the privatization of medicine would create similar problems in other markets for human tissue," Carney writes.
Arkansas sold its prisoners' blood until 1994, and it was "linked to outbreaks of hepatitis and contributed to the early spread of HIV." One of its biggest buyers was a Canadian company that hid its sources and resold the blood in Japan and Europe.
Carney rails against such secrecy throughout the book, pointing out how simply requiring transparency around donations would make the tissue market safer and fairer.
"The Red Market" leans heavily on examples from India, where Carney has worked as a journalist. His language and organization are choppy at times, possibly because the scope of the book is so wide, covering everything from crooked adoption agencies to human guinea pigs in pharmaceutical drug trials to stem-cell therapy.
The book's shortcomings are minor compared to Carney's unflinching, on-the-ground look at the way we value flesh — ours and others.
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