$4,000 for a kidney

BEIJING - In China, organ donation is allowed only among blood relatives.

But few opt to donate their organs.

This has triggered a hugely profitable clandestine organ trade.

But a Chinese newspaper, Nanfang Daily, reported that donors sell their kidneys not just to save lives.

The report said that donors, who are mainly migrant workers from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province in the south-east of China, have sold their kidneys to pay for a girlfriend's abortion, help support a grandfather, and pay off credit card debt, among other reasons.

And they are willing to part with their organ for about 20,000 yuan (S$4,000), reported Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post.

The workers are approached by agents in online chat rooms.

After medical check-ups, the agents would offer them accommodation and wait for a suitable match.

One agent mentioned in the report is said to have organised the sale of more than 100 kidneys last year.

Agents make their rounds in hospitals looking for patients who need kidney transplants.

When a match comes up, the donor would have one of his kidneys harvested in an operating theatre and then leave in three days with 20,000 yuan, a weakened body and a long scar.

But one such donor has regretted his action.

Underground organ-trading web

A pale and weak He Qing, who was given 20,000 yuan, told the Chinese newspaper that he is much thinner after the operation.

He said: "Had I found a job and worked hard for several months, I would have made 10,000 or 20,000 yuan."

He said he went to Dongguan, a city in central Guangdong province, and signed a sales agreement with an agent in a small hostel after a series of check-ups last month.

Two days later, he was taken from Dongguan to a place in Foshan, another city in the same province.

He told Nanfang Daily: "I am not sure where it is, but it's definitely not a hospital. The equipment there was very professional."

The operation lasted only an hour.

He stayed in a recovery room for a day but "it was so painful that I couldn't sleep".

Two days later he was taken to a small hostel and paid his fee.

He said he used 9,000 yuan to pay off credit card debt and 250 yuan to rent a room.

He was so bored that he bought a computer and a new mobile phone, which cost most of the rest of his 20,000 yuan.

Couldn't work any more

Mr He claimed he could not work any more and stayed in a rented room and did nothing but surf the Internet, play with his new phone and think of how to pay off the rest of his credit card debt.

An unidentified source told the newspaper that the agent who organised the sale of Mr He's kidney is a major player in the racket.

Many people work for the agent.

"The agent is only a link in the chain. He has a boss and the boss owns his own private hospital," the source was quoted as saying.

The report said an underground organ-trading web spanned many provinces.

The report also said that there are more than a million terminal kidney patients and 300,000 terminal patients with liver disease awaiting transplants each year.

This article was first published in The New Paper.