Posted November 19th, 2011 by Murray By Moonlight
Filed under: False, Scarelore, The Truth Is Less Strange Than Fiction, Urban Legends
Tags: chain email, email, kidney theft, real news stories, Scarelore, urban dangers
It was once entirely the stuff of Urban Legend fiction — a man meets a woman at a bar, they go back to his hotel room, he wakes up the next morning in a bathtub filled with ice. There is a telephone on a nearby stool and the words “Call an ambulance!” are written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. When he reaches hospital, in a critical condition, the Doctors discover that he has been drugged and one of his kidneys has been harvested in his hotel room bathroom.
Obviously nothing says you’ve had a great time on a business trip more than coming home missing an organ. You and all the other guys in the office can compare scars where your kidneys used to be and reminisce about “Good old Ralph”, who was stupid enough to let it happen to him twice.
And yet, as much fun as that situation sounds like, grim stories of commercial organ harvesting are turning out to be very real, although perhaps a little less sensationally dramatic than the popular urban legend version above.
News site Bloomberg recently ran a piece about organ gangs preying on people living in poverty, offering them cash in return for harvesting a healthy kidney.
Aliaksei Yafimau shudders at the memory of the burly thug who threatened to kill his relatives. Yafimau, who installs satellite television systems in Babrujsk, Belarus, answered an advertisement in 2010 offering easy money to anyone willing to sell a kidney.
This particular piece focused on a black market ring that was selling the harvested organs to Israeli patients desperately in need of kidney transplants, but other news items have also surfaced telling similar stories from other parts of the world.
The interesting folklore question  about this is: doesn’t the existence of a global black market in illegally harvested and transplanted organs make this Urban Legend true? I mean, doesn’t it?
The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is ‘Not really.’
…Okay, I can tell you’re a little disappointed, but let me explain.
To understand why this doesn’t exactly verify the Urban Legend, we need to consider that despite their similarities, these two stories are still quite different.
The Urban Legend version — a traveling businessman meets a pretty woman in a bar who seems instantly, probably even unexpectedly, attracted to him — is as much a morality story as anything else. In some versions of the story the businessman is married, and the consequences of his infidelity, and for being foolish enough to allow his personal safety to be compromised by the promise of a night with a pretty stranger, are predictably awful. It’s kind of like someone taking the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” thing to a whole new and disturbing level of literal interpretation.
The real-life stories are more conventional and mundane and, let’s face it, all the more sad and terrible because of it. The simple reality is that there are people in the world who are willing to sell a kidney due to poverty. And wait, there’s also the complexity of the organ transplant process to consider. The idea that people are randomly harvesting some stranger’s kidney in a hotel room on the premise that it might be used in a transplant within a very small timeframe is almost as unrealistic as when Kim Kardashian promises to stay married for longer than a week. For a transplant to be successful, matching between donor and recipient must be done before the operation can have any chance of success.
So, ya, I personally don’t consider the classic Urban Legend story to have been substantiated by these stories of black market organ harvesting rings. The randomness of the way in which people are targetted for harvesting is so much a part of the morality warning  of the Urban Legend version that the fact that it’s missing from the news stories means the Urban Legend stays ‘False’ for now.
- Organ Gangs Force Poor to Sell Kidneys for Desperate Israelis
- The Kidney Thieves
- Kidney Theft
- Requirements of a Kidney Donor
|1.||I promise, this really is interesting stuff to people who study contemporary folklore.|
|2.||In other words, the “Dude, it could happen to you!” part of the story.|