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Organ trafficking, transplant tourism, and transplant commercialism

Section Editor
Daniel C Brennan, MD, FACP
Deputy Editor
Albert Q Lam, MD


Most countries in the Western world prohibit compensated organ donation. Within the United States, the National Organ Transplant Act of 1972 states, "It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation." Penalties include a fine of up to USD $50,000 and/or imprisonment for up to five years.

Although condemned by the international community, organ trafficking, transplant tourism, and commercial transplantation are likely here to stay. Patient desperation, which is driven by the disparity between organ supply and demand, finds an outlet in unregulated countries. It is important to remember that, compared with dialysis, transplantation is the best treatment for end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Evidence indicates that healthcare practitioners who support organ trafficking and transplant tourism often dispense substandard care. Another concern is the risk of morbidity and mortality experienced by the living donors who are preyed upon by unscrupulous centers.

This topic review will address some of the current issues affecting the international transplant community that threaten to undermine altruistic organ donation and transplantation. The discussion will include the related issues of organ trafficking, transplant tourism, and transplant commercialism.


The actual number of transplants resulting from organ trafficking, transplant tourism, and transplant commercialism is largely unknown. Some estimate that organ trafficking may account for 5 and 10 percent of all kidney transplants [1].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 18, 2016.
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