Meat Market

The Gruesome & the Murderous in
the Global Demand for Body Parts

At the end of the day, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. There are at least two ways to consider the subject of today’s post: with outrage, shock and disgust; or with the detached POV of a fly on the wall of a possible future. Someday, the human body may be treated just like animal parts are now, and the same obliviousness, to serve as a harvestable source of replacement organs.
We’ll give a few for those on the front row seats to leave. Thanks for coming and come back soon; we’re working on a story about butterflies you may be interested. For those cold-bloodied enough to stay – you know who and what you are – boy, do we have a treat for you today. We may touch issues about free will, ritualistic killings, and fabrications of the pro-life movement.
Let’s get something out of the way, though: as long as you’re not doing anything to physically harm someone else, your body is yours for the taking. So you may stuff it, loaded with chemicals and smoke, starve it, mistreat it, twist it, or tattoo it, and negatively impress the kids by the way you abuse it.
It may not be nice, or healthy, or polite. Your neighbors may file complains against you. Family and friends may hold heated interventions about your rotten ways. You may find yourself in jail or having become the scorn of your generation. That’s terrible, we know, really ugly. But still, well within the confines of your right to inherit and dispose of your own body.

It’s what some people do to other people’s bodies, though, specifically when done to those who are not in agreement with the proceedings, however the justification being used, that may deserve the full extent of society’s laws and crime prevention forces. Unfortunately, most of what’s despicably done to human beings by other human beings is done in secret.
Being in the name of freedom, of the interest of the majority, for the good will of some god, or for openly power-trip reasons, we shouldn’t really need to get to the ‘why’ it’s being done, but how come this is even considered valid under any circumstances. In other words, regardless the euphemism invoked, torture and physical punishment can hardly ever be ‘good.’
Ironically, society tends to exercise much more often its prefab outrage against what consenting adults decide to do with their own flesh and blood, rather than listen to the cries that come from the underground chambers of horror. That’s where shady agencies, state’s repressive enforcers, local thugs, or heartless warlords, routinely exact their own brand of justice.
Thus we’re easily affected by those whose personal sensibilities are borderline with psycho-pathologies, however harmless they may be to those around them, while mostly hardened and doubtful about (broken) fingers pointing to powers that be. As the former are usually charged, the latter get away with war crimes, or unacceptable terror tactics, because, well, they can.
In both cases, the sophisticated S/M practitioner, and the activist whistle blower are targeted first as enemies of our community or state, while the shrewd defense contractor is hailed in some circles as the good guy. It’s all a matter of perspective, just like it is the context in which someone gets on on violence as a form of sexual-fulfillment.

To many, there’s something inherently averting about turning a human body part into a commodity. Since issues of extreme poverty and blatant exploitation are usually involved in the barely regulated practice, we tend to side up with those. You may remember a few years ago, for example, when a young Chinese man attempted to trade a kidney for the then latest iPad. Sad, really.
Others, with a more matter-of-fact approach to it, simply rent parts of their bodies to private companies. It’s just the modern equivalent of the old ‘sandwich man,’ advertising wares on the corner of the town’s main square, except that people now may be willing to allow permanent tattoos on their foreheads and other parts of their anatomy. Again, it’s their bodies, etc, etc.
It may have been the show that’s touring the world, Bodies, created by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, what may have touched a sore nerve. As it turned out, human bodies displayed on the show, which are encased in a synthetic resin, were allegedly from executed Chinese prisoners, sold by that country’s government without consent of the deceased’s families.
The show’s macabre twist had also the merit of helping to uncover a multimillion-dollar black market for human organs, that’s been thriving for years, but has finally received attention of the FBI and Interpol. Suddenly, exposés by the international media, and a few gruesome cases to boot, gave the issue the relevance it deserves.
Apart moral implications implied in the sale of body parts by the poor and the destitute to usually wealthy parties, the body itself is vast, and many parts are already traded without anyone screaming ‘bloody murder.’ To a list that already includes sperm, plasma, eggs and hair, you may now add bone marrow to utterly personal items anyone can legally sell in the U.S.

But these and other ‘goods’ are heavily regulated and cannot be purchased without written consent from the donor. Who, naturally, doesn’t need to be dead to donate them. It’s when there’s a premium placed on whole organs, without which no person can survive, though, that the market’s ghoulish and plain criminal aspect rears its ugly face.
There are no statistics, of course, for the number of people killed around the world, so their organs can be harvested, and we won’t offer here a speculative figure either. But consider that war is now a permanent state in so many parts of the planet, and progresses in foreign-tissue rejection have been remarkable, one can have a pretty good idea of the ‘what ifs’ of this issue.
Add to that too the extremely profitable plastic surgery industry, and the cumulative wealth of the majority of its patrons, and one starts to become alarmed by the possibility. Next, that same person would be floored by the realization that, in much of the ‘civilized’ world, rules of civility don’t apply, and whoever in the room has the biggest gun, or electric bolt, has also the final saying.

While bioethicists and federal regulators argue what the best way to approach the expected onslaught of demand for whole organs, which is already here in the form of a corrupted and dangerous black market, those who need, and can afford it, will continue to seek those who have no choice. The informal network of potential donors, transplant candidates, and the brokers who callously make a living out of them, will remain active either way.
Scientific advances in biotechnology are under pressure to produce results that could counter and neutralize such unstoppable offer and demand, by providing alternatives to transplant and medical research. We’re still a long way to go, though, and it’s very likely that robots will be thinking by themselves way before we develop a functional liver, ready to be purchased.
A surprising development can also be credited to the increased demand for human body parts: the resurgence of grave robbers, common since the time of the Pyramids, but now endowed with way more sophisticated means. For most thefts of bodies happen not under the cover of the night, in some dark cemetery, but lit by the fluorescent bulbs of the funeral parlor.
That’s where disgusting deals may take place and ‘noble’ human bones, such as femurs and hips, are extracted from those who, grant it, won’t need them. Such precious contraband goes on to be sold at a premium in places full of despicable characters and plenty of greed. Up to recently, even a few celebrities who passed away became victims of this extremely low-form of crime, if there’s even such a thing.

On top of all that, there are still vast areas of the globe where killing and harvesting of human organs are done out of superstition, or to assure control of one group over another. Albinos are constantly under siege, for instance. And those involved in what’s known as South Africa’s Muti Murderers continue to lawlessly earn their wages of carnage on the (literal) back of thousands of ‘impure souls.’
Every night, armies of vigilantes roam the African outback in search of those perceived as worthy being ritualistic killed, their organs taken while they’re still breathing, so to prepare their traditional (read, brutal) medicines’ concoctions. Hundreds are said to be killed every year in the hands of local warlords, who decide who lives and who dies.
Even if the body parts of these unfortunate victims will never reach the worldwide network, where they could fetch millions to a few crooks, there’s reason to believe that the market in which such a lowlife form of criminal thrives has everything going on for it, and hardly any sight it will slow down anytime soon.
It’s typical then that, while this horrifying reality is rampant all around us, some choose to be organized to combat a fictitious terror tale: that of the sale of fetuses. With hardly any evidence, though, that’s how large segments of the religious right are aiming their guns; by denouncing such invented illness as a product of a ‘godless society.’
Such forces don’t fool anyone, though, for it’s clear that their real agenda is to reverse the reproductive rights that women in this and other modern societies have earned through hard work. And to do away with the freedom that it represents to the gender that’s usually perceived as a second-class citizenry by religions of all stripes, in the first place.
While these groups terrorize immature and often illiterate teenager girls into believing they have no other choice but to have babies, even when generated by accident or rape, children born under similar or worse conditions continue to be targeted by tribal despots, international pedophile networks, and black-market organ brokers.
It may be disturbing to see how people voluntarily submit their bodies to all sorts of physical stress, but that’s their prerogative. It’s vomit-inducing to learn about a ghoulish organ trade that preys on the poor. But it’s much more revolting to witness some feigning sympathy to the victims, while pushing their own obscurantist agenda against basic human rights.

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