Body Parts à la Carte: What Living Organ Donors Can Spare


One of the more intriguing aspects of Thursday’s massive corruption arrest in New Jersey was the case of Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, accused of brokering illegal deals to buy kidneys from living donors. His story got us wondering: how much can you harvest from your own body?  NEWSWEEK's Jeneen Interlandi lists some of the organs one can donate while still alive (and, when the data were available, how much they go for):

Kidneys: You have two. You can live with one. As the most in-demand organ, kidneys fetch a high price: $30,000 in the U.S. (in which case the alleged customers of Rosenbaum were getting totally ripped off┴he’s accused of selling kidneys for $160,000 each).*

Liver: You have only one, but if you slice some off, it will grow back. Livers are the second most in-demand organ, bringing about $10,000 in the U.S.

Lung: Each lung has five lobes. You can safely part with one lobe, but any recipient would need a second lobe (from a second donor) to benefit from your gift.

Eyes: Whole eyes cannot be transplanted. But individual components of the eye┴namely the lens and the cornea┴can. Some anthropologists and human-rights workers have reported the sale of lenses and corneas from living donors.

Intestine: It’s possible, but the risks are so great and the need so rare that intestine donations almost always come from deceased donors. The vast majority of intestine recipients are young children with rare disorders.

Pancreas: Another organ of which you can donate a segment. Pancreas transplants are often done to improve quality of life (by reducing or eliminating the need for constant insulin injections in diabetics, for example). They still come mostly from deceased donors, but the number of living donors is growing as the transplant technology improves.

Skin: For a long time, the feeling was that taking skin from living donors was impractical. Nowadays, people who have excess skin after significant weight loss can donate that skin, usually to burn victims for skin-graft surgery. As with eye trafficking, rumors have long circulated about a black-market trade in human skin.

Bone marrow: Harvested inside the bone, this tissue regrows in healthy donors but is killed off by chemotherapy in patients with certain types of cancer. Donated marrow allows doctors to pursue more aggressive treatments.

Blood: Another non-organ, but blood is probably the easiest, safest, and most common type of donation.

* The price for healthy kidneys on the black market varies depending on the region. In 2005, the watchdog group Organs Watch report listed the following black-market rates for healthy kidneys:
U.S.: $30,000
Israel: $10,000-$20,000
Peru: $10,000
Turkey: $7,500
Brazil: $6,000
Moldova and Romania: $2,700
India: $1,500
Philippines: $1,500
Prewar Iraq $750-$10,000