Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers

The Red Market by Scott Carney
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Jul 17, 12

bookshelves: economics, public-health, science, non-fiction, brain-candy
Read from May 11 to 12, 2011

UPDATED - 7/17/12 - see link at bottom

How can I sell thee? Let me count the ways. Actually, I don’t need to. In The Red Market investigative journalist Scott Carney seems to have taken care of that. He covers the wealth of ways in which business people in the people business sell parts of people to other people. He covers the selling of bones, kidneys, human ova, personal gestation services, blood, and more. Geographically, most of Carney’s work is in India, where he lived for several years, but he forays out to Cyprus, Spain and the USA for personal investigations.

The impact of what he reveals here is global. It appears that the West (primarily) has found new sources of third-world raw materials to exploit. And as with prior versions of such practices, the locals do not fare very well from the transaction. In addition, it appears that third-worlders are being employed to do some work that gives the term “labor-saving” new weight. Carney’s focus is on the supply side of the equation, in particular its impact on the suppliers in this international meat market.

The material here is the stuff of horror films, reminiscent at times of the X-files or Sweeney Todd, although the consumption involved is not savory. Carney was teaching in India when a young woman in his program died. It was through his experience seeing that her remains were returned to the USA that he became aware of the way that once a person has passed on, pressure builds for their remains to be passed along.

He begins by digging into the business of grave-robbing in India, an enterprise that has supplied high-quality, sparkling product, intended largely for Western medical training.
When the police arrived to investigate in early 2007, they could smell the stench of rotting flesh from nearly a mile away. Sections of spine strung together with twine dangled from the rafters, an officer told me. Hundreds of bones were scattered on the floor in some sort of ordering system.
Carney offers a professional’s description of how the preparers transform a body into a sack of bones. (Included at the end of this review, for the ghoulishly curious) He writes, in addition, about the history of grave-robbing, particularly in the West. That is engrossing stuff.

One of the unanticipated aftermaths of the great tsunami of 2004 was the creation, via a large population of displaced and impoverished people, of a ready source of kidneys. Desperate people sell one of their two kidneys in order to get enough cash to keep their families going just a little longer. On the grounds of a dairy farm shanghaied transients are hooked up to tubes and their blood is siphoned off multiple times a week until they are near death. When their utility as milk-able blood-cows is about to expire they are put on a bus and sent out of town for someone else to deal with. Corneas are taken from barely living or just killed prisoners in Chinese prisons. In Cyprus, mostly Eastern-European women are given large doses of hormones to encourage the production of multiple ova, which are then implanted in Western customers. In India, women serving as surrogates live for months under conditions of virtual imprisonment until their product is C-Sectioned out of them. Carney paints a bleak picture. The only part of the Red Market that seems to work well is the donation and marketing of human hair.

Brokers for blood products, particularly, reminded me of how Wall Street fused hordes of junk financial products into one gigantic stinking pile of finance and sold it in a way that no buyer could discern the actual source of the underlying stench. When it comes to blood there are major brokers who collect blood from sources as solid as 9.5% APR mortgages. The quality of that blood is, to be generous, not reliable.

In addition to the reality on the ground, Carney looks at underlying issues, the role of anonymity in organ donation, the relationship between the free market and voluntarism, how changes in law affect such trade. He looks at the likelihood that new scientific developments might mitigate worldwide demand and examines the nature of fluctuating demand. Carney points out the very definite class difference in who benefits the most from this trade

Sometimes Carney shows a bit of naiveté, such as in the following
Obscuring the source of raw materials for any market is almost always a bad idea. We would never allow an oil company to hide the locations of its oil rigs, or not to disclose its environmental policies. And when an oil rig fails and leaks millions of barrels of petroleum into the ocean we demand accountability. Transparency is capitalism’s most basic safety feature.
Perhaps he has not noticed that corporations are quite successful at minimizing transparency. In doing this he ignores his own evidence of under-the-table payments to law enforcement personnel in India, a decidedly capitalist nation.

The grainy black-and-white images that appear throughout the book seem well-suited to the material. Carney writes in a first person voice that gives the reader a you-are-there feel. He is very readable, and that eases the discomfort of absorbing his subject matter.

In The Red Market, Scott Carney has done an outstanding job of shining a bright light into one of the darker dungeons of human commerce. While I thought that his solutions were a bit fuzzy, the upside here is that The Red Market offers a significant contribution to our base of knowledge about some serious public health, and human rights concerns.

While some parts of the book have been previously published in magazines, (Carney has been writing for many well-known publications for years) this is his first book. It is a stunning debut and promises to be the beginning of a long, productive and valuable career.

==================================EXTRA STUFF

Carney’s blog (http://redmarkets.com/) is well worth a look. There is much material there that supplements this book, including links to related articles, as well as material on other projects.

The book itself contains a wonderful bibliography for anyone interested in looking a bit deeper into specific areas.

While reading The Red Market I was reminded of several other books that touched on related subjects.

Little Princes re child-stealing for fun and profit

Larry’s Kidney re traveling abroad to pick up hard-to-find parts and services

Long for This World re our quest for immortality

The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks for the deep respect research science has for test subjects or “donors”

Dirty Pretty Things is the only film addressing issues raised here that popped to mind. But I am sure there are more.

===============================================
Not a High School Science Project - the ff is quoted from the book
First the corpses are wrapped in netting and anchored in the river, where bacteria and fish reduce them to loose piles of bones and mush in a week or so. The crew then scrubs them and boils them in a cauldron of water and caustic soda to dissolve any remaining flesh. That leaves the calcium surfaces with a yellow tint. To bring them up to medical white, bones are then left in sunlight for a week before being soaked in hydrochloric acid.
This means you, Norm.

===============================================
UPDATE - Monday, June 20, 2011
A very nice review by Michiko Kakutani appeared in today's New York Times

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - A fascinating article from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist - Human Corpses are Prize in Global Drive for Profits
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Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by Scott (last edited May 22, 2011 11:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Scott Carney Thanks for the great review Will. I'm still shocked that the blood farmer started out in the dairy business. And good point about transparency. Perhaps I should have written "transparency should be one of capitalism's most basic safety features." I believe that I wrote that sentence on the day that the deep water horizon blew. FFor what it's worth it is a lot easier to get information our of a company like BP after the spill then it is for most foreign hospitals to open up their transplant records.


message 2: by Kaethe (new) - added it

Kaethe Thanks for the review, Will. I'm eager to read this.


Will Byrnes I hope that the glowing NY Times review will sell a lot of books for Carney. We need for journalists like him to be encouraged and supported.


Scott Carney Hey Will, do you think you could post this review on Amazon as well? I think it would be helpful for people to read.


Will Byrnes Scott wrote: "Hey Will, do you think you could post this review on Amazon as well? I think it would be helpful for people to read."
I am not on Amazon, but I would be happy to.


Will Byrnes Scott wrote: "Hey Will, do you think you could post this review on Amazon as well? I think it would be helpful for people to read."

So, now I am on Amazon. I have posted the review, sans HTML. I do not yet know if they allow for that there. Supposedly I will hear if it is processed within the next 48. Hope you sell gazillions!


Scott Carney Thanks Will, you're great.


Will Byrnes Brian wrote: "Great review Will, and an important subject. Do a Google search on Chinese prisoners (many of them incarcerated for political offenses) being harvested for organs. Considering what those organs fet..."
Thanks, Brian, Carney pays considerable attention to our friends in the PRC and this particular subject.

There was a particular instance of native for-profit prison corruption here in Wilkes-Barre, my sweetie's home town. Kids were being incarcerated for offenses that usually did not merit such treatment because the judge was being paid off by the owners of the privatized prison. Ah, the joys of capitalism!


Will Byrnes Agreed!


message 10: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Brian wrote: "...and the companies that profit fund "get tough on crime" candidates who promise to write more laws and put more citizens in jail. It is difficult to see how for-profit prisons are anything other ..."

Isn't that slavery?


message 11: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Whitaker wrote: "Brian wrote: "...and the companies that profit fund "get tough on crime" candidates who promise to write more laws and put more citizens in jail. It is difficult to see how for-profit prisons are a..."

Effectively, but I am sure there are many who might prefer to call it something like "ownership society."


message 12: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Will wrote: "Effectively, but I am sure there are many who might prefer to call it something like "ownership society.""

Ah, the utility of euphemism.

Ugh.


message 13: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Euphemism sounds like a bodily product exuded by adolescents.


message 14: by Elaine (new) - added it

Elaine Kasteler Thanks for your suggestion to read this book - I've also ordered several other books you've read. I'm looking forward to following your reviews.


message 15: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Oi, this whole thing actually sounds worse than a horror story, because it's happening for real.

"Real" horrors like these are always more discomfiting and disturbing to me than the most fantastical horrors that you can dream up in fiction.


message 16: by Arthur (last edited Jul 19, 2012 11:13AM) (new)

Arthur Graham Bone thieves? I think I met a few of them in the joint. No, wait a sec, those were butt farmers ;-)

All joking aside, let's just say there's a reason why I'm NOT listed as an organ donor!


message 17: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Keeten So if in the future if I need a kidney where is the best place to get the freshest product? haha

I've heard that the Chinese actually part out their executed prisoners. I noticed you mentioned corneas, but do they go further?

Great review Will! I'll look up a copy.


message 18: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Jeff, here is a quote from the book re that:


P 82 - …One [source was ]…the ex-wife of a transplant surgeon who performed more than two thousand cornea harvestings from living prisoners Over the years he told her about the day-to-day goings-on at what can only be called an organ factory. She described underground networks of holding cells at Sujiatun Hospital that housed at least five thousand prisoners in pens. Doctors there fed the prisoners only meager rations. Every day doctors removed three prisoners from their cells.

She says that the captives were then “injected with the shot that caused heart failure. During the process they would be pushed into operation rooms to have their organs removed. On the surface the heart stopped beating, but the brain was still functioning because of that shot.” Her husband would then receive the patients and quickly slice out the corneas and send the patient on a gurney down the hall where “their organs were removed while alive, and that it was not just cornea removals—they were removing many organs."


message 19: by Scott (last edited Jul 19, 2012 01:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Scott Carney My most recent information on China says that they are still using the bodies of executed prisoners as the source for a variety of organs and human tissue. Skin, corneas, kidneys, livers, ligaments, etc. They're a one stop shop.


message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Trav and Arthur, here are a few quotes from the Introduction that will do nothing to believe tour unease:

P 6 – Inevitably red markets have the nasty social side effect of moving flesh upward—never downward—through social classes. Even without a criminal element, unrestricted free markets act like vampires, sapping the health and strength from ghettos of poor donors and funneling their parts to the wealthy.

P 7 – Obscuring the source of raw materials for any market is almost always a bad idea. We would never allow an oil company to hide the locations of its oil rigs, or not to disclose its environmental policies. And when an oil rig fails and leaks millions of barrels of petroleum into the ocean we demand accountability. Transparency is capitalism’s most basic safety feature.

P 15 – this book is an exploration of the supply side of the economic equation. Without understanding supply we will never understand how quickly red markets can foster global criminal enterprise.

The collision of altruism and privacy undercuts the noble ideals that they were meant to protect. Every step along the red market supply chain helps transform humans into meat. The brokers who buy and sell bodies play the part of butchers who can see a living person as nothing more than the sum of their constituent parts.


message 21: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes And thanks for the likes, all. Grisly stuff, this. Carney did some eye-opening work here.


message 22: by Arthur (new)

Arthur Graham Will wrote: "Inevitably red markets have the nasty social side effect of moving flesh upward—never downward—through social classes"

How is this any different from any other resource, really?


message 23: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks for the update, Scott. Do you have any further writings on the subject?


message 24: by Kelly Maybedog (new)

Kelly Maybedog Words cannot describe my reaction to this.

I do have a question though. How does child trafficking fit in with the other subjects? I mean, doesn't that fit in more with the sex trade and trafficking in teenage girls and drugs?


message 25: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes In the context of this book it has more to do with adoption.


message 26: by Kelly Maybedog (new)

Kelly Maybedog Adoption for organ trafficking? That's just sick. I mean all of it is sick, but that's just, well, there aren't words.


message 27: by Traveller (last edited Jul 24, 2012 02:06AM) (new)

Traveller Will wrote: "Trav and Arthur, here are a few quotes from the Introduction that will do nothing to believe tour unease:

P 6 – Inevitably red markets have the nasty social side effect of moving flesh upward—neve..."


Oi.. that and the previous post about Chinese prisons literally makes me feel nauseous... D:

Where do all these transplants physically take place, though? Do the recipients go to countries where authorities simply look the other way?


message 28: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Kelly wrote: "I do have a question though. How does child trafficking fit in with the other subjects? I mean, doesn't that fit in more with the sex trade and trafficking in teenage girls and drugs?
."


Boys are also trafficked, mind you. :(


message 29: by Will (last edited Jul 24, 2012 02:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes No, not adoption for organ trafficking. Different chapters, different subjects. Just for adoption.

Trav, organs are sent all over the world. But you might take a look at Larry's Kidney, one of the books I noted at the end of the review. It details the story of a guy going to China for a part and the surgery to install it. And check out Carney's site, also noted in the review. Given that he has responded to this review, (and probably others, I have not checked) and to comments here, he might be open to a direct question there. Also, clearly, this is a book worth reading, so I encourage you to pick up a copy, whether in a library or a store.


Teresa Lukey OMG! I am so naive! This stuff is so hard for me to fathom. I always feel like people are mostly good, but there is so much "messed-up" in our world-indicating otherwise. This is a book I may have to check out.


message 31: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes It's a dark planet out there


message 32: by Kelly Maybedog (last edited Dec 02, 2012 07:41AM) (new)

Kelly Maybedog Traveller, of course, of course. When confronted with it, I think of younger children who are sold for sex as being mostly boys and teenagers who are trafficked being mostly girls. But of course, children of both/all genders and ages are in danger from this stuff.


message 33: by Caroline (last edited Nov 22, 2012 10:01AM) (new)

Caroline Excellent review and interesting comments too. What an horrendous trade...


message 34: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Caroline, and yes it is.


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