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What is Transplant Tourism?

Katrina Bramstedt, PhD
Health Education

In the US, there is a generally a very long waiting list for organ transplants. Sometimes, patients wait so long that they get very sick and are no longer eligible to receive a transplant. Sometimes, they die while waiting. Out of frustration, some patients contemplate leaving the US and traveling to a foreign country to obtain an organ transplant. 

In some countries, the waiting list for an organ is very short because patients buy organs via systems that use brokers and traffickers. This is illegal in the US but is known to occur in other countries such as India, Pakistan, and China, for example. Often, the living donors are not true "donors", rather they are forced to "give" an organ or they sell their organs in an attempt to pay off debts.

If you are looking for an organ transplant, where is the "donor" organ coming from?  Is it really from a person who gave consent? Are the organs from a "black market" (purchased via brokers or traffickers)?  Are the organs infected with HIV, hepatitis, or other pathogens?  Transplant tourism is plagued with clinical, legal and ethical problems. 

A better solution is to stay in your home country and work with your transplant center to find a Good Samaritan living donor (kidney, liver, pancreas, lung lobe, intestine) or possibly optimize your medical management with a bridging device (e.g., ventricular assist device for patients who have heart failure). For more information, see: www.TransplantEthics.com

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.