Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 8-1-2020

Publication Citation

27 Indiana J. Global Legal Studies 409 (2020)


Medical tourism, as defined by scholar Glenn Cohen, is "the travel of residents of one country to another country for treatment."' Transplant tourism, a type of medical tourism, is traveling abroad to purchase an organ for transplant. Although organ sale is currently illegal in every country except Iran, many countries-such as India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Egypt-have thriving black markets for these goods. Organ transplants are often the only effective means of treating end state organ failure, and the demand for transplants is especially high in developed and middle-income countries. Shortages of available donors and organs, however, have caused an increased demand with a limited supply. The Global Observatory on Donation and Transplantation estimates that in 2013, there were 118,000 organs transplanted globally, meeting only 10 percent or less of global needs. This gap in supply and demand has created a black market for underground organ sales where poor and vulnerable individuals sell their organs to brokers, who then resell these organs at higher costs. In 2011, the World Health Organization estimated that global illicit organ sales produced between $600 million and $1.2 billion annually. The market that has emerged is harmful to sellers in many aspects, and sellers are often taken advantage of by brokers' manipulative tactics.

This paper will explore the problems associated with black market organ sales and analyze its effects on sellers" (i.e., the people selling their organs) and the tourists (i.e., the people who travel abroad for transplantation). Part I will give an overview of how transplant tourism operates, focusing specifically on kidney sales. Part II will address ethical arguments for why transplant tourism is harmful to sellers. Part III will address the international response to this phenomenon and the various international protocols in place. Finally, Part IV will propose regulatory solutions that are aimed at protecting sellers. Since a thriving black market already exists, regulation-instead of outright prohibition-is the best solution for protecting sellers' well-being who are currently unprotected in the market.