The Red Market by Scott Carney

The Red Market looks at the global market in human tissue. Carney uncovers a class system in which the products of poor human bodies migrate to the bodies of rich humans. From a section of the book in which he details the practice of hiring people to do clinical trials of drugs:

As with kidneys, eggs, and every other red market, the flesh of trial subjects can only move upward through the social hierarchy…. The poor and destitute bear the risk of testing drugs, but only the affluent receive their potential benefits.

This book was a real eye opener for me. Carney writes about a village in India in which almost all the women have sold their kidneys just to survive. He tells of the common practice of kidnapping young children to sell them to orphanages where affluent adoptee parents are duped into thinking the child they are about to adopt actually is an orphan. He explains how a temple takes in donated hair from pilgrims then sells the hair on the open market, a nearly billion dollar a year market. And he explains how grave robbers in India bleach bones to be sold to medical schools in England, the United States, and other countries. And that’s just for starters. There are chapters on professional lab rats, egg harvesters, and bone merchants. The red market is extensive and all-encompassing. Almost every country in the world is knee deep in it, as provider, recipient, or both.

I had no idea of the extent of this market. It is a global enterprise in which kidneys, bones, skin, blood, and anything else that can be sourced from a human body attracts a clandestine underground in which the recipients are generally ignorant of the source of the tissue they use. Medical schools, hospitals, doctors, and patients almost universally close their eyes and cover their ears when it comes to knowing exactly where the body parts they use comes from.

The Red Market is a thorough and sometimes harrowing work of reportage. I was transfixed and fascinated. Very highly recommended.

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