“The Red Market” by Scott Carney

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“The Red Market” by Scott Carney

c.2011, William Morrow
$25.99 / $27.99 Canada
254 pages

 

By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

This week, you gave away part of yourself.

But that’s just what we do, isn’t it? There’s a need somewhere, and we roll up our sleeves to donate blood. We see children with cancer, and we cut our hair to give them. Some people go further with kidneys or bone marrow.

Even in death, you can donate.

It seems like a good way of saving lives: you give, someone else gets. But author Scott Carney says there’s much more to it than that. In his new book “The Red Market”, he shows the dark, hidden side of medical altruism.

Following completion of a graduate program at a Wisconsin college, Scott Carney’s “short-lived professional academic career” abruptly halted with the death of one of his students who was studying abroad in India. Taking responsibility for her remains, Carney “confronted the physical nature of mortality,” which forced him to see that “every corpse has a stakeholder.”

In many cases, though, the stakeholders are varied and the body isn’t dead.  India, as it turns out, is a major world hub for what Carney calls a “Red Market” in which human organs become big-money commodities, despite social taboos.

We like to believe that altruism begets organ donations. Here, we freely give blood, sticker our driver’s licenses, and sign up for registries, but there is no such thing as altruism in the Red Market. “Donor” is a misnomer.

Take kidneys, for example: in India, entire towns are filled with people who’ve been promised the equivalent of several months’ salary in exchange for kidneys, which are then sold to desperate buyers with the means to pay the price, usually a fraction of the cost of a kidney transplant back home.

Making families is a big business, too, and Carney uncovered sordid truths about in-vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and foreign adoptions. He looked into skeletal remains, their thefts, and their use in American medical schools. He recalls his college days, and a brief stint as a human guinea pig. He writes about the world’s blood supply, its constant state of “low”, and the hidden danger that could mean to your health.

Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re worthless. After reading “The Red Market”, you’ll know that’s not true.

Author Scott Carney warns readers early that some of what he writes about is disturbing, and he’s right. It’s hard to consider humans as commodities, difficult to think of women as little more than incubators, and horrifying to read about crimes committed in the name of money. Carney tells us about things we’d just as soon not think about.

In the end, he makes no bones about a solution to the Red Market but it, too, is controversial. Still, he says, though other scholars have come to the same conclusion, it “… won’t solve every problem.”

If you’re mindful of your health and want to stay abreast of global issues that might affect you, this is a book you’ll want to read. With “The Red Market,” being informed won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

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