Report: Kid sells kidney to buy iPad and iPhone
The report is from the Xinhua News Agency -- China's official English language mouthpiece -- so you can take it or leave it according to your own idea of the truthfullness of the Chinese government.
But even as a parable for the dangers of capitalism, it has lessons of which we all should be aware:
The 17-year-old boy, identified only by his surname Wang, was approached in an online chatroom and paid 22,000 yuan (£2,200) for his kidney to be used in an illegal transplant operation, the Xinhua News Agency said.
The teen now suffers from renal deficiency and his health is deteriorating, according to prosecutors in Chenzhou city, Hunan province.
Five people from southern China have been charged with intentional injury and illegal organ trading, including the surgeon who removed the boy's kidney in April 2011.
According to the Xinhua, one of the accused was paid 220,000 yuan (£22,000) to arrange the transplant. He paid the boy 22,000 yuan (£2,200) and shared the remaining profit with the surgeon, the three other defendants and other medical staff.
The media reports gave no indication of who paid for and received the kidney.
The illegal organ market is growing by the year, despite legislation in many countries forbidding the sale of human body parts for cash. With 6,000 people dying every year because of a lack of kidney donors, one is tempted to support legalizing the practice, regulate it, and protect the donor from the fate suffered by the young Chinese boy.
The moral debate over selling one's organs usually revolves around the fact that no matter how well the trade would be regulated, it would still be exploiting the desperately poor in favor of saving the rich. This is a rather paternalistic view, positing that the poor are too stupid, or too desperate, to fully understand the consequences of their decision. Even if one rejects that notion, there is something to be said against carving oneself up for a big payday.
One ethics specialist echoes the libertarian viewpoint that government should not control what someone wants to do with their own body. This may be satisfying in an intellectual way, but practically speaking, it removes the moral judgment of society about how far we should go in advancing science. While the organ may be donated freely in the sense that the donor consents, that doesn't obviate the notion that the donor is trapped by his own poverty and free choice is not as open to him as it would be someone in better economic circumstances.
The whole issue may become moot in the next decade as experiments are already underway to grow organs using stem cells from the recipient. In the meantime, however, bans on selling organs would seem to be the practical thing to do, as well as the correct moral choice.