Socioeconomic Inequality & the Organ Trade - A Commentary


            The advent of industrialisation has brought a host of improvements to human life, from creature comforts like cars and air-conditioners to indispensable modern day items like electrical lights and water taps. However, the price of industrialisation has also been high, with some people earning more than others in what has become prevalent as the rich-poor gap. This trend in socioeconomic inequality has also extended to the humanitarian aspects of life, with relatively rich people in first world countries being able to spend more for their health problems compared to others in third world states where these same problems are ignored simply because they cannot afford the high medical costs. It has led to the idea of the poor being exploited by the rich, as argued according to the principles of Marxist economics.  

In some third world countries, the exploitation has taken on a further twist. Wealthy people pay their poorer neighbours for their services, but some of them also pay for their body parts, namely organs such as kidneys. A recent Council of Europe document has highlighted that in Europe alone, there are about 120,000 people on chronic dialysis treatment, and that about 15-30% of these patients die while on the waiting list, which could take up to 10 years by the year 2010.[1] This has led some wealthy people to seek alternative sources of organs, some of them travelling to third world countries like India or other parts of Southeast Asia to obtain their organs. 

This shocking revelation seems to justify the notion that with wealth, one is able to purchase health, even if this is at the expense of our poorer neighbours. This is as many poor people, in their desperation to obtain the financial resources to survive, sell their organs for a handsome profit. But many of the organ transplants are performed in medically-inadequate places such as backstreet alleys and temporary clinics, leading to a significant number of the poor people losing their lives. It can therefore be seen that socioeconomic exploitation is a function of the income gap between rich and poor. One can only hope that governments take on a more active role in addressing this travesty of justice and putting an end to the illegal organ trade once and for all.

The above commentary was written by Mark Lim Shan-Loong on 12 March 2004.


Comments? Email to share your thoughts.


The Writing Page

[1] Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Trafficking in Organs in Europe, 2003, Online, European Union, Available:, 12 Mar 2004.