What’s the market for spare body parts?

Dear Cecil:

What organs can you live without, if you really had to? How much could I sell them for?

Cecil replies:

Let’s be careful about this. The Teeming Millions may get the wrong idea, and the evidence suggests a lot of them are missing important parts of their bodies already. Still, you raise an interesting subject.

I have a book here called Sell Yourself to Science, published by Loompanics, the same folks who brought you 101 Sucker Punches and The Complete Book of International Smuggling. Author Jim Hogshire regretfully informs us that it is against the law in the U.S. and most other countries to pay money for spare body parts. But he claims there is an overseas black market for used organs, and in India the organ trade apparently is perfectly legal, according to the wire service (meaning: not totally flaky) clippings the Loompanics folks sent me.

In addition to renewable resources such as blood, milk, sperm, etc., Hogshire says the stuff you can spare that somebody else theoretically could use includes kidneys, bone marrow, liver slices, the odd bit of lung, and corneas. But that’s stretching it. While live-donor kidney and bone marrow transplants are common, live-donor liver transplants are still experimental and live-donor lung transplants are pretty much unheard of. As for live-donor corneal transplants — come on, would you go blind for a buck? Hogshire claims folks in India do, for $4,000 per cornea, but one suspects an element of urban legendry here. The rate in Madras for kidneys is more reliably reported as $500 to $1,000 per. (Hogshire cites kidney rates of $10,000 and up, but that’s the all-in price paid by the transplantee, not what the donor gets.) Not much for a highly useful, custom-built pound of flesh.

Hogshire tacitly admits as much; he spends a bigger chunk of the book telling you how to become a paid human guinea pig for medical researchers. If that’s no go, he notes, you can always avail yourself of the grim but perfectly legal practice of leasing your body in toto to a large corporation on a per-hour basis. Translation: get a job.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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