Hoaxes can be Harmful!
From: email@example.com (Michael Holloway)
Subject: Re: Stolen Kidney UL
Date: 16 Aug 1994 14:09:11 -0600
This author seems to have either made up the story, or greatly embellished a story of
payment for live kidney donation for the sake of a gruesome sensational tale. The British
law making the sale of organs illegal was not prompted by forcible removal of organs but
by the desire to keep India's practice of payment for live kidney donation from spreading.
Its similar to laws in most western countries now.
belief that you can take an organ from anyone off the street and put it anywhere is
extremely ignorant and extremely harmful. Urban legends of "organ theft"
make transplantation appear gruesome and is a major cause of lost donations. Potential
transplant patients are dying because some asshole thought an "organ theft"
story was entertaining. Anyone interested in more information is invited to read the
This FAQ is archived at rtfm.mit.edu and available by gopher or ftp under
Transplant and organ donation myths
As with any new technology, rumors, myths and misunderstandings about organ
transplantation are wide spread. Frustration produced by the high cost, the effect of the
organ donor shortage, and the unavailability of transplantation throughout most of the
rest of the world have probably contributed to this. Since rumors can often be more
entertaining than the truth, tabloid media will often pick up and help spread them,
despite the great harm they cause. Urban legends about organ transplantation are uniquely
dangerous since organ transplantation can not succeed without the participation and
support of the majority of the population. Bad press, urban legends, even fiction
portraying organ transplantation as somehow evil, all have prevented full support for
donation and led to the death of people who might otherwise be leading productive and
happy lives now.
Another factor fueling the proliferation of myths is the unfortunate institution in India of payment
for unrelated live kidney donation that preys on the poor in that country. While it may be
true that the Indian medical community is not required to abide by western standards of
ethics, neither is the US medical community required to interact with them, train their
physicians, publish their research, etc. Its past time that the US medical community
started taking visible responsibility for influencing transplantation ethics in foreign
Mani, M.K., Renal Transplantation in India. (1992) Transplantation Proceedings,
Kott, Andrea., Organ Procurement Programs in State of Emergency. Medical World News
Feb 1992, v33n2, p. 15-16
The black market myth:
In all the time that the rumors of a black market, kidnapping and murder of children,
organ-swiping, and other atrocities have been circulating (since at least 1982), there has
never been any evidence to substantiate any of them.
Any rumor regarding a black market in organs, or organ piracy, needs to be evaluated in
light of the necessity of matching the organ and recipient in order to avoid rejection by
the recipient's immune system. One can not take any old organ and just put it anywhere you
please. A rather complex system has been set up in the US to handle matching and
distribution. Its unlikely that any number of evil people in the US or abroad will be able
to duplicate such a system in secret. Adding these simple facts with the necessity of
having many highly skilled medical professionals involved, along with modern medical
facilities and support, makes it plain why rumors of the involvement of murder, violence
and organized crime in organ procurement can not be given any credence.
These stories have done great damage to the public's appreciation of the need for organ
For reference see "Organ Trafficking Myths", a paper by Todd Leventhal, USIA
Senior Policy Officer, and "UNOS paper on organ theft myths", available through
the Yale biomedical gopher (see above).
The Latin American baby snatching myth
These myths have been traced back to at least 1986 when Pravda in the Soviet Union
carried allegations of children being taken to the US for adoption and then being murdered
for their organs. There are several variations and they've become quite popular in
countries where the civil unrest they foster tends to favor one political or military
faction. As described above, all of them require an ignorance of what's involved in
transplantation. No evidence is ever produced, just the assertion that its being
Within the last two years some individuals concerned about human rights violations in
Latin-America have become infatuated with these rumors, apparently because one
Central-American government official or another had told them that they were true, though
again no evidence is produced. This is very unfortunate since Amnesty International has
started to quote some of the more irresponsible writings on the subject.
Further information is available from Todd Leventhal at the US Information Agency.
firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (202)619-5673. Fax: (202)205-0655.
They've been following the body parts rumors for seven years.
References and additional information:
Leventhal, THE "BABY PARTS" MYTH: THE ANATOMY OF A RUMOR. UNOS
Update, May 1994 (also available from Todd Leventhal email@example.com and the Yale
biomedical gopher after 6/1/94)
Pierce, Burdick face accusers in baby parts allegations, UNOS Update, June 1993
(available at the Yale biomedical gopher)
UNOS Fights 'Baby Parts' Rumor in Geneva. UNOS Update, May 1994
Organ Trafficking perspective from UNOS, UNOS press release available from UNOS and
soon to be posted at the Yale biomedical gopher site.
Foreigners Attacked in Guatemala. New York Times, 4/5/94, pg. A10.
Holden, Constance. Curbing Soviet Disinformation. Science Nov 4, 1988, v242, p. 665