Bodies for Sale

By Ellie DePastino ’18

In a globalized world full of consumers, humans want commodities. Whether it is food to feed a family, or the newest model of a computer, there always exists a demand for products. An odd dichotomy exists, though, when humans are introduced as commodities. Manual labor, sex slavery, and organ transplants all require humans, and these services and commodities associate humans with value that reflects the price of these commodities. By attaching a price to the legal or illegal services humans perform, people run the risk of putting lives in danger and degrading the value of life. While organ and sex trafficking both define humans and human parts as commodities, they differ in the fact that organ trafficking operates as a response to an above ground global shortage, while sex trafficking exists to fulfill an underground need.

The sex industry degrades humans by naming sex a commodity. In Jane Smith’s piece, “Making Movies,” she emphasizes the prices allocated to different sex acts: $25 for a “strip for the camera,” “fifty dollars for a double,” and “for a real f*ck movie,” $75.[1] Not only does setting a price for acting in pornography define sex as a commodity, but the price increments emphasize how more sexual involvement implies a higher value. Outside of pornography, Dan Archer and Olga Trusova display in the graphic novel “Borderlands” the very real experiences of people being sex trafficked and the individual damage done from this industry. Svetlana’s story traces how her pimp views her body as a commodity. She says that her pimp “bought me pretty dresses, and some clients even bought me champagne, provided I did what they wanted.”[2] This exchange of goods for sex as a service shows how sex trafficking removes humanity from people by treating humans as goods. Smith, Archer and Trusova convey how humans are seen as commodities through the porn industry and through sex trafficking—just as organs are seen as goods. However, the point of divergence between the sex industry and organ trafficking involves the amount and legality of the existing demand.

Just as sex trafficking uses bodies as goods, organ trafficking defines humans as commodities in both low- and high-income nations. The practice of organ stealing shows just how valuable body parts are, and it has plagued poor towns in countries across the globe. Anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes writes of these destitute people, often children, who are murdered for their body parts. “Body snatching rumours” stir fear in rural villages that are subject to child abductions. She notes the “municipal truck” seen one day carrying “the remains of an unknown, unclaimed man.”[3] The way these bodies are cared for is tragic, as they are often “mixed up and lost in the cemetery, making it difficult to honour the dead in small Catholic rituals.”[4] Bodies are often treated as disposable goods in low-income countries, and price tags are stuck on them in more well-off nations. In Serbia, a nation suffering from economic crisis, many people ask for tens of thousands of dollars for a kidney. After losing his job, Belgrade resident Pavle Mircov put an advertisement online with his blood type and phone number. He put a $40,000 price tag on his kidney, for he says, “my financial situation is very difficult. I lost my job and I need money for school and for my two children.”[5] The grey market for organs commodifies body parts as a result of the high organ demand, traffickers commit horrifying crimes to obtain organs, and “donors” offer up their organs for a large amount of money in their pocket.

Organ trafficking and sex trafficking both attach a price to a human body, yet the role supply plays into each system separates the two. The global organ shortage crisis affect The World Health organization estimates that the supply of organs does not meet “more than a tenth of the need.”[6]Another estimate states that 18 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.[7] With this organ shortage crisis, people around the world respond by trying to sell their organs, knowing the high demand and low supply will yield high pay. Additionally, the demand for organs is traced back to individuals that need an organ transplant to save their lives. Because this demand exists above-ground and is legal, it differs from those who demand sex from underground, illicit prostitutes and pimps.

A stunning aspect of organ trafficking is they way it operates within legal spheres. Wang Guoqi details his experience with legal organ extraction in his piece “Habeas Corpus.” Working as a doctor at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Hospital, he extracted organs from executed prisoners. He recalls the time a prisoner “lay convulsing,” while he and others removed the kidneys and the skin. Throughout the process, “the prisoner was still breathing and his heart continued to beat.” The team decided to save “no way he can survive.”[8] The fact that organs are harvested from breathing bodies close to death is appalling, and it shows the greater extrinsic value placed on bodies compared to their value alive. Activities like these can occur because the demand is so high, and traffickers and extractors harvest high value parts with low costs to them. Guoqi concludes by expanding on the high moral costs that caused him to quit the industry, saying it had “tortured my conscience to no end.”[9]

Though sex trafficking and organ trafficking are similar in the way they define humans as commodities, the two systems diverge at the point of supply shortages. The organ shortage crisis drives individuals to “donate” their organs for pay, while it drives traffickers to commit horrendous acts in order to obtain a high value good. The sex industry does not suffer from a shortage in supply, and the underground demand for sex is fulfilled by an underground supply.

[1] Smith, 136-140.

[2] Archer and Trusova.

[3] Scheper-Hughes, 3.

[4] Ibid, 5.

[5] Bilefsky.

[6] Transplant Brokers, 2.

[7] Clark, Marcia and William Travis Clark.

[8] Guogi, 24.

[9] Ibid, 23.

 Works Cited

Archer, Dan, and Olga Trusova. Borderland. Dan Archer and Olga Trusova, 2010. Print.

Bilefsky, Dan. “Black Market for Body Parts Spreads Among the Poor in Europe.” The

New York Times 28 June 2012. The New York Times Company. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <>.

Clark, Marcia, and William Travis Clark. “Selling Your Organs: Should It Be Legal? Do

You Own Yourself?” Forbes., 13 June 2013. Web. 24 Sept. 2014. <>.

Guoqi, Wang. “Habeas Corpus.” Harper’s Magazine 304.1821 Feb. 2002: 22-25. Web.

Sack, Kevin. “Transplant Brokers in Israel Lure Desperate Kidney Patients to Costa

Rica.” The New York Times 17 Aug. 2014. The New York Times Company. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <>.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. “Theft of Life: The Globalization of Organ Stealing Rumors.”

Anthropology Today 12.3 (1996): 3-11. Web.

Smith, Jane. “Making Movies.” Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry 2

(1987): 135-41. Print.