In the U.S. alone, 4,000 people die each year while waiting for a kidney transplant, so its not an extraordinary shock that the global market of organ trafficking has flourished in recent years.
The New York Times published a report on Sunday that looked into the successful business of organ trafficking, and how desperate kidney seekers are looking to countries like Costa Rica to find life saving transplants.
Chronic renal failure can be managed with dialysis up to a point, and after this point, patients with kidney disease need an organ transplant to survive. While over 80,000 kidney transplants are performed each year, there demand for the organs is still much higher than supply.
Kevin Sack of the Times explored the international organ market through the story of Ophira Dorin, an Israeli woman whose last shot at survival was finding a kidney abroad. Dorin found her kidney in Costa Rica, one of the worlds hubs for transplant tourism.
Although the Costa Rican government did not know how many foreign patients received questionable kidney transplants in the capital of San Jose, The Times found at least 11 patients who traveled to Costa Rica to receive kidneys from locals.
For $175,000 cash, Ms. Dorin was able to buy a kidney transplant from Costa Rican doctor, Dr. Francisco Jose Mora Palma. Dr. Mora then paid the kidney seller, a 37-year old unemployed local, $18,500 for one of his kidneys.
While she knew that the legality of the kidney transplant was suspicious, Ms. Dorin along with countless other desperate transplant patients felt that she was left without any other choice.
Ms. Dorin said, Even if I knew it was illegal, I dont think I would have done anything different. Its important to understand that these people, although greedy, do save lives.
Last year, the Costa Rica authorities discovered an international trafficking ring that dealt primarily with Israelis and Eastern European clients. According to the World Bank, over 20 percent of the Costa Rican population lives in poverty, which is one reason why this Central American country is a popular spot for organ trafficking.
Several Costa Rican citizens have sold their kidneys just to make ends meet.
According to the Times, The Costa Ricans who provided kidneys to foreigners were mainly men who had not finished high school and were either unemployed or held low-income jobs.
For people who need kidney transplants, this is a stroke of luck. Organs from living donors are preferred over cadavers, as they last longer.
Although it is reasonably safe to live with just one kidney, investigators believe that the sellers are not well-informed about the risks of donating one of their kidneys for a bit of extra cash, which further highlights the questionable ethics and legality of the international organ trade.
Costa Rica isnt just a haven for people seeking kidney transplants. By 2012, around 50,000 foreign visitors had journeyed to Costa Rica in search for some type of medical procedure, ranging from tummy tucks to root canals to kidney transplants.
After an extensive investigation into the international organ trade in Costa Rica, local officials arrested Dr. Mora in June 2013. The doctor, who had conducted countless kidney transplants on foreign patients, paid a bail of $180,000. After leaving jail, Dr. Mora did not return to work.
A friend of Dr. Moras defended the doctors character, saying, He said they did the kidney transplants to save lives. That is the only reason. Dr. Mora has lost many things: money, patients, his position, his prestige. He can never come back.
Because of this scandal, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly passed a law in March that tightens the restrictions on medical trafficking and places more accountability on doctors that choose to conduct illicit procedures.
For patients searching for a kidney transplant abroad, Costa Rica may no longer be the place to go.