Police have begun to make arrests in tightly knit ring of organ smugglers who have been operating in Tamil Nadu, India for the last two to ten years. In the last month there have been a slew of media reports about the organ racket, and while many of the details are still a bit fuzzy the implications are clear.
The first reports came during a public meeting of disenfranchised tsunami survivors in the village of Eranavoor who were airing their disappointment with government efforts to find them shelter and alleviate some of the more crushing aspects of poverty. In that meeting a group of 35 women admitted to having sold their kidneys to brokers and that they were put up in posh hospitals in nearby Chennai for a few days before being cast out on the street without after care. They women were primarily upset because the brokers offered them large sums of money, but ended up cheating them out of the lions share of the rewards.
Since the initial report over 150 people have come forward as victims of kidney brokers. Police from around the state are estimating that the total number of illegal transplants edges closer to 500. There have also been reports that some of the brokers also dealt in liver and bone marrow.
Other reports have suggested that many of the buyers are medical tourists from the middle east who have come to Chennai in order to skip over lengthy waiting lists in their home country while also saving a great deal of money on the surgery.
The police have already begun investigations into some of the hospitals that preformed the operations, yet the magnitude of the racket threatens to destabilize the medical administrations across the state. After a slew of illegal transplants in the 1990s, the government issued a law making it illegal to perform an operation without a thorough review from an ethics board.
The rules specifically state that no transplant should be undertaken if there is payment involved, and that all live transplants should be donations, preferably from family members. The organ mafia seems to have been able to provide false documents for the would be patients.
But it now appears that the state level ethics committee chaired by the Director of Medical Education in Chennai was complicit in the illegal dealings and authorized surgeries that they knew were about to be preformed under sham circumstances.
As one reporter I spoke to today said, “The ethics board would have to have been mad to think that all of these people flying in from around the country for transplants had poor, illiterate tsunami survivors for relatives living in the vicinity of the hospitals.” Members of the local ethics boards maintain that they did nothing wrong.
Tomorrow I am going to take a trip up to Eranavoor to see what local people can tell me about the racket. Feel free to send any tips or good wishes to me at firstname.lastname@example.org