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Beneath the organ trade: a critical analysis of the organ trafficking discourse

Crime, Law and Social Change

Published online on


This paper critically examines how the organ trade fits into the human trafficking discourse. The organ trade involves diverse actors and consists of various practices, i.e. organ trafficking, transplant tourism, organ sales and organ harvesting. Nevertheless the organ trade is predominantly defined in terms of organ trafficking. Although organ trafficking is a major concern it is not representative of the phenomenon as a whole. Evidence based research indicates that the organ trade is better characterised by organ sales and transplant tourism. This paper argues that co-opting the organ trade into the ‘meta- narrative’ of human trafficking resists a wider critique of the phenomenon linking the emergence of a global market in organs to broader socio-economic conditions. Further it is argued that the organ trade is not a direct consequence of the global shortage of organ supplies, but is rather linked to the transfer of transplant capabilities to the global South. The rhetorical positioning of the organ trade as an object of crime control diverts critical attention away from the transplant industry and frames the phenomenon within a narrow criminal paradigm. Formulaic criminal responses follow which overlook important intersections of agency, identity, culture and politics.