Caught in a murky underworld of illegal transactions, they’re at the mercy of brokers

The illegal kidney trade in Bangalore’s backyard is abusive of the ‘donors’, who are shanghaied into parting their organ under indigent circumstances. Such ‘donations’, if deeply violative of their human rights, are part of a grisly trade involving patients with end stage renal disease, which is the final stage of irreversible kidney disorder.

But often, these patients, desperate after years of dialysis, end up victims of the very system they try to contravene when signing up for such illegal purchase. In an unchecked system, where a tout-hospital nexus operates like a well-oiled machine, people like Sudhakaran A. (42) find themselves all at sea. “Everyone warned us that touts are cheats, but when it actually happened to us, we had nowhere to turn to. Who do we complain to when we were ourselves trying to violate the law?” he asked, describing his helplessness when a kidney broker duped him of Rs. 60,000 way back in 2005.

Unsuspecting

Mr. Sudhakaran, then working in Ernakulam, was being treated at a leading multi-speciality hospital in Bangalore when introduced to the broker. A pharmacy worker at the hospital told his family there were many agents who “handled” the hospital. “We handed over photocopies of all my medical reports. Within days — we told him we were in a hurry — he brought a young man and a woman, and told us one of their kidneys was sure to match my blood type.”

Given that there were no suitable donors in his family, he had no option but to go along. “We were satisfied that there was some hospital connection, so we didn’t suspect anything amiss.”

Three months later, Mr. Sudhakaran said, the same two “donors” met him along with the broker, saying they had suffered crop losses and badly needed the money. “It was agreed that once the money tides them over their financial distress, the operation would happen within days. They even gave me a landline number and an address.”

When they vamoosed with the money, neither Mr. Sudhakaran nor his family knew where to begin looking for them. The disheartened patient and his family left the city and he underwent a kidney transplant when a cousin donated him a kidney.

Big losses

With the current crackdown on the racket by the Ramanagaram police, The Hindu came across many instances where desperate stakeholders operating outside the legal system were cheated, sometimes as much as Rs.1 lakh.

Vijaya, whose financial consultant husband was diagnosed with renal failure, was approached by as many as three brokers. They were led to believe the process was getting “fast-tracked” as within a week a donor was identified. The broker had even taken them to his office. Eventually it turned out the entire operation was a fake and the couple was poorer by Rs.80,000.

Apart from brokers, there are also cases when people have been approached by hospital staff who put them on to their own relatives. Like in the case of Sunil Kumara (32), who in 2007 was approached by a young man in the hospital who said he was in dire need of money. He promised him a kidney and even underwent medical tests, but finally he disappeared with Rs.80,000 and was untraceable, his brother told The Hindu. Mr. Sunil Kumara got a fresh lease of life when his wife donated her kidney. Victims told The Hindu often people in dialysis wards are on the lookout for potential recipients.

The loophole

The Transplantation of Human Organs Act (Amendment) 2011 allows for donation of organs by “unrelated donor” who shares a “special attachment or affection towards the recipient or for any other special reason”. This loophole allows, as these accounts reveal, not only for the exploitation of donors but also of desperate patients.