It's a widely known fact that the demand for organ donations cannot be met by conventional, "legal" means. But how far can one go to achieve self-preservation? In Tales from the Organ Trade
, this and other questions are addressed as the filmmakers explore the black market.
While there is a need for many non-vital organs, kidneys are the most popular trade. Impoverished people from developing countries, such as India and the Philippines, see kidney donation as an opportunity to improve their lives while helping someone in need. Western people who can afford the $100,000 price tag have similar views. None of the participating parties, from donors to surgeons to recipients, believe the exchange is exploitation – but prosecutors are hoping to prove just that.
Filmmaker Ric Esther Bienstock traveled the world to capture every aspect of the subject. She speaks to a Canadian man who paid for a transplant in Kosovo and the Russian woman who donated her kidney to him for $12,000. Prospective donors in the Philippines anxiously wait to be selected as a candidate, while others share their stories of donation. Meanwhile, a mother in Canada and an older man in the U.S. contemplate black market kidney transplants after many unfruitful years on the organ transplant list. Two doctors who perform these life-saving procedures – one a fugitive in Turkey dubbed Dr. Frankenstein by the media and the other an Israeli physician who sees no evil in paying for human organs – are interviewed, as well as the prosecutor who seeks to jail them again.
The morality and ethics of the situation is a passionate debate. There are two distinct sides two every aspect of this discussion. Paying for non-vital organs is both taking advantage of the donor's poverty and helping them better their situation. The doctors are both saving lives and ignoring the plight of half their patients. But who is in the best position to decide what is wrong? As an activist for legalizing organ donation for compensation suggests, he could be considered less moral than someone who performs these illegal operations because none of his actions saves anyone's life.
It's interesting that director David Cronenberg would be selected to narrate the film based on his relationship with the body and its violation in his own movies. The images are a compilation of interviews and B-roll, which glimpses the subject's daily routine. Whether it involves housing underneath someone else's shack or bulges due to exploded and swollen veins, the desperation of each person is shown to vary in type but not intensity. The story is drawn together logically and comprehensively, leaving the viewer to make up their own mind about organ trafficking.
Tales from the Organ Trade
is screening during Hot Docs
, the largest documentary film festival in North America, which runs April 25 to May 5 in Toronto.