Desperate need for money, lack of adequate organs lead to mushrooming of cyber forums for illegal sales; agents involved claim to ‘facilitate transplants’ at various hospitals for hefty prices

It’s not just books, clothes and electronic gadgets that are up for sale online — kidneys too, are available.

Google ‘kidneys for sale’ and a host of websites offering the organ pop up. On social networking forums and private sites with message boards, there are hundreds of people interested in selling and buying kidneys.

Though selling of human organs is illegal in the country, the demand for kidneys is such that despite measures to curb sales, open online forums are thriving. For people waiting for a kidney transplant — 2,811 in Tamil Nadu alone — these websites are a shortcut to getting a donor, a process that could take years legally. And since those offering their kidneys are usually desperate for money, if the price is right they are more than willing to sell quickly.

Numbers provided

Message boards online are full of details including names, ages, blood groups, email addresses, health statuses, and in a few cases, even phone numbers. Some are willing to travel to any part of the country to make the sale.

Take Rahul (name changed) for instance, who is from Rajasthan. He has posted a message on a social networking site, saying he is ready to sell one of his kidneys. Rahul is 27, his blood group is ‘A’ positive and anybody interested, can contact him over the phone. His price: Rs. 30 lakh, of which Rs. 2 lakh needs to be paid immediately to an “agent” for paperwork. Rs. 8 lakh would go towards hospital costs and he would get to keep the remaining Rs. 20 lakh.

“We can organise the transplant at a hospital in Hyderabad or Bangalore. I spoke to an agent and he will do all the paperwork. I just need a photograph of the patient and identity proof,” he said when contacted on his mobile phone. He also provided a bank account number for the transaction. A day later, he gave the name of a hospital in Hyderabad for the transplant and, after a lot of bargaining, came down to Rs. 24 lakh.

Rahul said he wanted to sell his kidney because he needed money for his sister’s wedding.

John (name changed) of Chennai, posted an advertisement for a kidney almost a year ago. When contacted, his wife said they had put up the ad when they were in a “difficult” situation. “We are Sri Lankans. We are just making arrangements now to go abroad and do not want to donate any longer,” she said apologetically.

Just like in real estate, direct donors apart, there are dozens of ‘agents’ and ‘facilitators’ on the websites. A man, whose email address contained the words ‘kidney agent’, posted a message on a website asking anyone who wanted a kidney and assistance with hospital procedures to write to him. He claimed he could arrange for hospitalisation and a transplant with “legal procedures”.

‘Send medical reports’

When this reporter wrote an email to him posing as a patient’s relative, he replied, “I have a donor in Chennai. The total expenses will come up to Rs. 12 lakh.” He wanted the patient’s medical reports emailed to him.

Another man, who claimed he was from Hyderabad, said the transplant would cost nearly Rs. 7 lakh. “We have to prove that the donor and recipient are related. It will take time if the transplant procedure is done in Tamil Nadu due to the legal procedures. It depends on the level of understanding you have with the doctor,” he said.

Sunil Shroff, managing trustee of MOHAN Foundation, an NGO that promotes organ donation, said they received several emails from persons wanting to sell their kidneys. “Posting such messages is illegal. Online forums should be moderated and websites should be careful about the kinds of comments that are posted on them,” he said.

Health department officials said several persons were ignorant of the law. “We are taking measures to launch awareness programmes for residents. People waiting for kidneys should follow the formal, legal procedure,” an official said.

A reporter’s exchange with a ‘kidney agent’

Reporter: I saw your message on a website. my uncle, aged 55 years, needs kidney transplant. can you help? we are in Tamil Nadu. ready to spend money. this is my email id. pls reply as soon as possible with details on procedures and cost. thanks.

Agent: Send me the patient reports on my mail id. I have the donor and i wil arrange the transplantation

Reporter: thanks for your immediate reply. are there any procedures for transplantation? like donors’ approval as i have seen on newspapers about some government rules. pls tell me the cost so that we can be ready with the cash.

Agent: yes there are some procedures, I wil explain u here. but i need patient reports for confirmation, if u send the reports then explain u all the details

Agent: I will arrange the transplantation with legal procedure. I have the donor in chennai. total expenses wil comes upto 12 lacs and 45 days are required to do all legal procedures. After sending of reports i wil give u full details.

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