T H E K I D N E Y H E I S T
This story, above many Urban Legends, is one of the most widely believed. Spread across the world through film, television and the World Wide Web but it is also, in comparison to many other legends still an infant; only peering its blood-soaked head amongst the zeitgeist in the early 90’s. The story itself is so feasible, so simple in its narrative that it almost doesn’t sound like an Urban Legend at all. As horrific and terrible the event is, and as much as we would like to avoid its occurrence, it would still be considered average amongst the dark stories that emerge from the black market, or from the war crimes that have been recorded over time.
In a strangely fitting manner, being so modern in its creation and delivery, one of the earliest accounts of the story appeared in the television show ‘Law & Order’ in April 1991 - in an episode titled ‘Sonata for Solo Organ’ that followed the story of a stolen kidney; although, as many of the episodes of Law & Order, they prided themselves in the fact they created their crimes were inspired by real-life events. It wasn’t until 1997 though that the story exploded around North America, changing from a forgotten episode amongst hundreds of hour-long crimes that appeared on a popular show and morphing to become the Urban Legend it is today.
Once again, keeping up with its contemporary design, it was an e-mail that spread the story of a stolen kidney like an untreated infection across the internet. In an early form of chain mail, the subject header warned ‘Travellers Beware!’, with the contents inside explaining that a highly organised gang were operating in major U.S cities, drugging business travellers and stealing their kidneys to sell on the black market. To add authenticity to this e-mail, several testimonials from others claiming the events had also occurred in their parts of the country was placed at the bottom, along with requests that the recipient passes it on to warn their friends and colleagues as they travelled around the country for work. In a time before a greater understanding of SPAM, where cast members of friends were hired to shoot how-to videos to help people get to grips with their computers, this worked a treat - and the story continued duplicating as it jumped from office to office. From here, as expected when using the new technology of the World Wide Web, the story travelled through every string of its webbing; crawling overseas to the United Kingdom, Mainland Europe before continuing the trail to the eastern hemisphere. This story was so widely believed as it moved from our screens to the water coolers and bars, discussed in magazines and newspapers, spreading panic and fear amongst the general public. This became so strong and problematic for officials that eventually The National Kidney Foundation put out a plea for any individual who had their kidneys illegally removed to step forward and contact them in an effort to dispel the belief and to this day, not a single legitimate case has come to fruition.
Regardless of this fact, the story lives on, evolving and changing to fit the world as Urban Legends often do. More than most, fear is an emotion that evokes a strong reaction - mix this with the morbid curiosity and sheer will for these creepy stories to be true in an attempt to avoid disappointment in our own spooky world, it seems it will continue to live on for years to come. Just like the infamy of Jack the Ripper, it is the dark mystery that causes us to lean in over the campfire as the stories are told, no matter how fictional; but although the story itself is false - that doesn’t mean that is where the narrative of Kidneys on the black market ends.
It was in December 1989 that Reuters reported on a 34-year-old Turkish man Ahmet Koc. He claimed that he had been lured to Great Britain with the promise of a cleaning job by Turkish Businessmen who had told him that to be approved, he would need a medical check. He went to a hospital, one that he suspected on hindsight was actually a hotel and allowed himself to be given an injection under the false pretences that they were, in fact, taking blood. It wasn’t until three days later that he was told he had, in fact, had his kidney removed and it had now been transplanted into another patient in the hospital but that for his troubles, he would be paid handsomely in the amount of £2,650.
Although at first glance, this seems like a very similar account of The Kidney Heist, it was later revealed this was not the full truth as Ahmet, it would seem, was in fact, a willing participant of the illegal trade. Eventually, Ahmet went to the Turkish authorities to report the illegal organ brokers and the result was a two-year sentence for one of the brothers who initiated the deal; Ahmet himself received a two-year suspended sentence himself for his role in the illegal trade. When the British press grabbed hold of it, Ahmet’s story exploded due to its juicy narrative and twisted story after he was called upon by a General Medical Council’s disciplinary hearing. This led to the final twist in this dark story, as an advertisement in a Turkish newspaper came to light - one offering to sell one of their kidneys - an advertisement placed by Ahmet himself.
It seemed the truth, although dark, was just not sexy enough to live on its own two feet and so, instead, the world unconsciously decided to brush that under the rug and ran with the far juicier story of a man who had a kidney stolen against their will. This may have been the inspiration for that early episode of Law & Order, but it might have been more than that, it very well seems to have been the birth of a brand-new Urban Legend.
The story of Ahmet was long forgotten by 1997, where the new e-mail was running wild across the web. The New Orleans Police Department received more than a hundred calls by concerned citizens due to the fact that New Orleans was one of the listed cities this was apparently taking place. This got so out of hand that the police department eventually put up a web page specifically dedicated to this rumour, denying its existence in reality. Around the same time, elsewhere in the world - India’s parliament passed a bill limiting organ donations to close relatives and enforcing prison terms for up to seven years for selling an organ in 1995. Even so, it has been reported that in several states where the law had not yet been ratified by state legislatures, men continued to find poor people in need of financial benefits and buying the Kidney for $1,000 - this may not seem much to us, but that was more than a years’ salary for a rural Indian labourer, especially one already financially struggling.
If that still seems too low to give up a part of your body, then the fact that those who took the Kidney will be paid between $6,000 and $10,000 by the recipient of the organ can only be salt in the wound. Although outlawed, and although hard to say for certain, many sources suggest that this is still going on in many places with the prison sentences remaining fairly low when proven guilty due to the voluntary nature of the procedure.
In May of 1998, three surgeons and seven others at the Noida Medicare Center in Uttar Pradesh, India were charged for approaching various unemployed indigent men with the promise of jobs and connections to a world of possibility. They were advised that a medical examination was required; they would use the results of this to imply a small operation was needed to fix a problem they had. During these operations and unknown to the victims, one of each of their kidneys were removed for resale. Once this was complete, there would be no job offer.
Strangely enough, on the other side of the world, in China, the Kilgour - Matas report claimed that there are more organ donations given than there are of official donors. The report eludes to the suspicion that prisoners of conscience are donating their organs against their will. This led to The U.S. House of Representatives and the European Parliament to pass resolutions thoroughly condemning the practice.
The allegations themselves have been strongly supported by a report as recent as 2017. The report being an update on two separate works of investigative journalism; The first being ‘The Slaughter: Mass killings, organ harvesting, and China’s secret solution to its dissident problem by Ethan Gutmann, and ‘Bloody
Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs’ written by David Matas and David Kilgour. The China Tribunal, an indecent tribunal looking into the accusations of forced organ harvesting in China released their final report and judgement in 2019, in part determining that ‘The tribunal’s members are certain - unanimously, and sure beyond a reasonable doubt - that in China, forced organ heating from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time involving a very substantial number of victims’.
As a result of this report, as well China previously even admitting to harvesting organs in the past, reportedly ceasing to do so in 2015, several prominent journals are pushing for stronger controls to ensure that papers produced on organ transplantation only use those organs that are voluntarily obtained.
S O U R C E S
(In order of mention)
Kilgour & Matas Report
| 10th December 1989
| July 2006
| 18th June 2019
| 26th August 2009
| 14th November 2019