Organ trafficking is the practice of selling organs for transplant. There are both legal and illegal forms of organ trafficking, typically in which living individuals undergo removal of an organ that is then sold to be transplanted into someone else. While organ trafficking may involve the transfer of organs between willing donors who volunteered for the process, there is some evidence that not all donors actually volunteer their organs, are capable of giving informed consent, or are compensated appropriately. Furthermore, some concerned investigators and activists believe that various middlemen may be profiting significantly from the sale of organs.
Significant advances in medicine have made it easier and safer to transplant organs. While it used to be that organ recipients often needed to be related to their donors in order to reduce the chance of rejection, new innovations in anti-rejection drugs have made it so people can safely receive organs from strangers. As a result, efforts to recruit organ donors have increased considerably over the years. While as of 2011 it is legal in some countries, such as Iran, to sell an organ, many countries have made it illegal to do so. The restriction on selling organs may apply to organs harvested from both living and dead donors. As a result, patients in need of an organ transplant have to rely on organs harvested from those who are dead or from volunteers who are willing to undergo major surgery and the loss of vital organ without any form of compensation.
The desperation of some patients and their families means that they may be willing to pay a significant amount of money for a healthy organ. Some individuals network to try and match potential donors with patients who are in need of organ donation. These individuals may operate in developing countries where equally desperate people are willing to sell their organs with little consideration of the effect that the operation may have on their health and where any monetary compensation they receive is insignificant compared to that earned by other participants in the donor-recipient matching process.
Many government and medical officials are suspicious of some of the more dramatic tales of organ trafficking that may include the involuntary removal of organs from some donors. Some journalists and activists are examining the possibility of illegal organ trafficking rings, including those that may target some individuals for involuntary organ harvesting. Some surgeons have signed a document known as the Declaration of Istanbul, which condemns organ trafficking and profiteering.