October 2, 2002
2058 IST

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Poor Indians worse off after
selling kidney: Study

Poor people in India, who sold one of their kidneys illegally to earn much needed cash and pay off debts, found themselves worse off both monetarily and medically after the surgery, a study has found.

Some of them were not even paid the promised amount for the kidney and in several cases, men forced their wives to sell one kidney, author Madhav Goyal, an internal medicine specialist with the Geisinger Health System in the State College, Pennsylvania, said in his study published in the journal of the American Medical Association.

Goyal found widespread evidence of the sale of kidneys in India despite a legal ban, easily locating 305 sellers.

The study was conducted in Chennai where US researchers examined 305 persons who were promised between $450 and $6,300 for their kidneys with the average amount promised being $1,500.

However, the actual amount paid averaged around $1000.

Besides, the price paid depends on the level of poverty - the poorer a seller is, the less is he or she is paid. The reason is need for immediate cash which diminishes the bargaining capacity.

By paying the poor, the rich avoid donating their organs for their loved ones and that, ethicists say, means the system is unfair to the needy.

Selling a kidney did not result in long-term economic benefits to the seller but in effect resulted in declining health, which adversely affected the earning capacity, Goyal said.

After six years of surgery, family incomes fell on an average by one-third and health of 86 per cent of the sellers deteriorated, the study found. Moreover, many families failed to pay off their entire debt, which was the main purpose of selling the kidney.

Of the 292 who sold kidneys to pay off a debt, 216 continued to be under debt when the study was conducted.

An overwhelming 79 per cent of sellers told researchers that they would not recommend selling a kidney. The journal said the study explodes the proposition that sale of a kidney is a win-win situation that benefits both the buyer and the seller.

Most poor people agree to sell their organs, kidney and liver, hoping it will be their passport out of poverty, the study found.

However, the family income decreases because of the deteriorating medical condition of the seller after the surgery, known as nephrectomy.

The study found that as a result of the decrease in income, the number of individuals living in poverty increased from 54 per cent before the sale to 71 per cent after the surgery.

The organs are much in demand with some 50,000 people waiting for a kidney in the United States alone.

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