Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran's Human Kidney Trade

An advertisement for a kidney-for-sale on the wall in a Tehran street
An advertisement for a kidney-for-sale on the wall in a Tehran street
If you're in the market for a kidney then you'll be in luck in Iran. It's the only country in the world where the buying and selling of kidneys is legal.

"The Guardian" tells the story of one Iranian woman, Marzieh, who is selling her kidney to raise money for a dowry for her daughter's wedding:

In order to advertise her kidney, Marzieh has written her blood type and her phone number on pieces of paper and has posted them along the street close to several of Tehran's major hospitals, home to the country's major kidney transplant centres.

Others have done the same. Some have written in big letters or in bright colours to attract attention; some have sprayed their information on the walls of public or even private properties.

"Kidney for sale," reads one ad, carrying the donor's blood type, O+, and a mobile number, with a note emphasising "urgent", insinuating that the donor is prepared to consider discounts. Another similar ad reads: "Attention, attention, a healthy kidney for sale, O+." Many are handwritten, though some have typed the ads to make them look better. "24 years old, kidney for sale," another reads. "Tested healthy." It's not, however, a completely unregulated organ yard sale:

Iran's controversial kidney procurement system, which has been praised by many experts and criticised by others, allows people to sell and buy kidneys under the state-regulated surveillance of two non-profit organisations, the CASKP and the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases. These charities facilitate the process by finding potential vendors and introducing them to the recipients, and are charged with checking the compatibility of a possible donation and ensuring a fair trade.

Some of the trade though does happen outside the gaze of the authorities. "Despite the state control, bureaucracy and time-consuming procedures have left the door open for non-official direct negotiations, making the Iranian system more like a kidney market," Saeed Kamali Dehghan writes.

The problem with the system is that it disproportionately appeals to poor people and the medical follow-up with donors perhaps isn't as rigorous as it could be.

Other countries, such as China, India, and Pakistan, have attracted foreign customers, some who might pay as much as $200,000 for an organ. In Iran, however, people are not allowed to donate to noncitizens.

Iran's is a model that has generated discussion and interest from academics and medical practitioners abroad. As "The Guardian" points out, in the United States "more than 100,000 people were estimated to be on the waiting list for kidney transplants in 2010." Iran got rid of its waiting lists in 1999.

According to Al Arabiya, "U.S. and British medical experts say it could be an example to follow by their own countries to overcome shortage of kidney donors."

A 2010 University of Pennsylvania study found that people were much more willing to donate their kidneys if the reward were higher.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

Latest Posts