Is any gadget worth a kidney? Five arrested in China over illegal organ transplant

Five people have been charged in China over an incident in 2011, where a seventeen-year-old boy sold his kidney to afford new Apple products. Now his health is failing.

Five people have been charged in China yesterday over an incident last year, where a seventeen-year-old teenager sold his kidney to buy a new iPhone and iPad 2.

State-run news site Xinhua reported that the five, including a surgeon and other medical staff, received around 220,000 yuan ($35,000) for the transplant. They have been charged with intentional injury. Several other suspects are still under investigation.

The teenager, only identified by the surname 'Wang', received 22,000 yuan ($3,500) for his kidney.

Apple products are pricey, certainly, and Wang came from Anhui province which is considered one of China's poorest. iPhones cost around 3,988 yuan ($633) and an iPad costs about 2,988 yuan ($474). For a seventeen-year-old from a modest background, they were out of reach.

He got a poor deal.

Whilst he may have been able to afford the new products, it has cost him his long term health. Wang is now suffering from kidney failure and increasing health problems.

The trading of human organs has been banned in China since 2007.

However, statistics from the health ministry show that around 1.5 million people in China are waiting for transplants, whilst only 10,000 are performed in a year. As a result, there is a fairly sizable market for illegal organ transplants.

Wang found his opportunity in an online chatroom, when a broker offered to pay him for his kidney.

As desperate as Wang must have been to own the new devices, his guilt eventually overcame him, and he confessed to his mother how he had afforded them.

It is a sad story for everyone involved, including those prosecuted. As the Xinhua report details, "defendant He Wei, who was penniless and frustrated over gambling debts, sought to make enormous earnings through illegal kidney trading."

To think that only 6 years ago this would have been a legal way to clear his debts, and for Wang to fund his gadgets, is unsettling.

Moreover, the transitory nature of the products involved make this case even more tragic. Whilst Wang might have sold his kidney in 2011 and received the latest model, the new iPad is on its way to China soon. The iPhone 4S was also released at the start of this year.

The truth is that new gadgets, and new generations of Apple products specifically, will overtake his purchases very quickly. At only seventeen it might seem like a fair trade, but as Wang grows older this mistake will become even more painful.

Wang expressed regret when this story first broke in April, 2011. It is hard to image how he must be feeling now that his health is showing the real cost of his actions.

There have been rumours of other cases like this that might never be proven true, but what is clear is that some people really do think a phone is worth a valuable kidney. Considering how many people in China are left waiting for transplants, it seems bleak that Wang himself might be added to that list in the future.

Image credit: Flickr.