Western medical experts look up to Iran’s legal kidney trade


Kidney trade in Iran, the only country in the world that allows the sale of human organs, has drawn the attention of U.S. and British medical experts who say it could be example to follow by their own countries to overcome shortage of kidney donors.

Iranians are free to sell their kidneys, which has helped the country overcome a possible shortage of kidney donors and helps save lives every year.

“Since 1999, more than 30,000 U.S. patients with kidney failure have died waiting for an organ that never arrived,” Benjamin Hippen, a transplant nephrologist with the Carolinas medical center in North Carolina, told the UK-based newspaper The Guardian.

But in Iran, a total of 2,285 kidney transplants took place in the country, of which 1,690 kidneys were supplied from volunteers and 595 from those clinically brain-dead in 2010, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

Hippen, who has studied successes, deficiencies and the ambiguities of the Iranian system, compared Iran to Pakistan, where organ trafficking is nominally illegal but still occurs.

“It seems to me that if Iran had not developed a system of incentives, the situation there today would look very much like the state of affairs in countries such as Pakistan,” he added.

Sue Rabbitt Roff, senior research fellow at the University of Dundee, told The Guardian that it was time to try “paid provision” of live kidneys in the UK, under “strict rules of access and equity.”

But the downside of legalizing Kidney trade is that “the majority of those selling kidneys in Iran are disproportionately poor, and information about the long-term outcomes for sellers is quite limited,” said Hippen, who is also an associate editor of the American Journal of Transplantation.

“That said, Iran appears to have successfully addressed the shortage of organs, incentives for organs have not substantially attenuated the growth and development of organ procurement from deceased donors, and reported outcomes for recipients have been favorable,” Hippen said.

Worldwide, the illegal kidney trade has reached an annually estimated 10,000 black market operations involving purchased human organs, or more than one operation every hour, according to World Health Organization experts.

Increase of diabetes and other diseases have raised demand for kidneys, making it a lucrative business for traffickers who always attempt to defy laws.