The human body fetches a price in life and death. A look inside the world’s illegal body bazaars.books Updated: Sep 23, 2011 23:04 IST
The Red Market
It’s a trope universally recognised: amoral scientists break ethical barriers to create rioting Frankensteins, or destructive wormhole tunnels through space and time to threaten humanity in unconceivable ways. The only reason why we’re still alive is because these creepy by-products of botched-up experiments of frenzied megaminds haven’t crossed the fiction-reality barrier yet.
What investigative journalist Scott Carney successfully does is go under the outdated radar of fiction writers to meet regular people with the morality of a Nazi on steroids, out to create unimaginable wealth in the easiest way possible. If it means maiming or killing some people along the way, so be it. In the heads of these madmen — surprisingly, the book mentions no exploitative women — a world teeming with almost seven billion people can do with a few lives broken or blotted out.
Carney’s putting a tag of quarter of a million dollars ($250,000) on a healthy human body — his own — in the world’s illegal body bazaar sets the tone for the book that looks at pretty much all aspects of trade in human parts. He meets slum kids kidnapped to bring joy to rich couples in the West, middlemen who trick tsunami-affected women of their kidneys for as little as R35,000, grave-robbers who pilfer morgues, graves and crematoriums for bones, and even talks about becoming a lab-rat to test Pfizer’s impotence drug that gave him more headaches than erections.
Your body fetches a price even in death, with undamaged skeletons — dug out for as little as R1,000 in India — fetching several hundred dollars in the international market. Since most bodies come from among the poor, the few ripples created, if at all, disappear quicker than yesterday’s tweets.
China’s systematic prospecting for organs among prisoners, often alive, between 2000 and 2005, has few parallels post Auschwitz. Until recently, Americans could buy organs from executed prisoners in China, writes Carney “In 2006, the website for the China International Transplantation Network Assistance, a government-sponsored body, advertised a straightforward list: kidney, $62,000; liver $98,000-$130,000; lung, $150,000-$170,000; heart, $130,000-$160,000; cornea, $30,000, he writes.
Apart from Chennai’s Kidneyvakkam — so called because many of its residents had sold their kidneys for cash — the scariest story from India is about the milkman-turned-vampire Pappu Yadav (the book does not identify him as a politician) in Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Fed up with trolling the streets in search of the drug-addled and destitute to sell their blood, he decided to get his business organised in the lines of his dairy. Much like his beloved cows, he locked up people in sheds where their blood was collected twice a week. When the police raided the sheds, they found 17 emaciated men, with haemoglobin as low as four (healthy haemoglobin for men is 14-18 gram). Leeched of blood, they resembled wrinkled mummies. Yadav was arrested and jailed — for nine whole months.
What makes the book riveting is Carney’s ability to keep the narrative humanised. Much of the underworld he trawls is in India, where he lived for a decade tracking illegal trafficking. The compilation highlights the depressing reality that beneath a veneer of altruism — helping childless couples conceive, giving orphans a home — thrives a trade in body parts that exploits those who are powerless to complain.