Guest post by Heike Baird
Heike Baird is a writer and film fan who resides in downtown Indianapolis. Heike's fixation on good films began with a childhood obsession with Mary Poppins. Her favorite movie ever is Waiting for Guffman. Oh—and her first name rhymes with Micah.
Would you give one of your kidneys to a stranger?
Would you give one of your kidneys to a stranger for $20,000?
In the David Cronenberg-narrated documentary TALES FROM THE ORGAN TRADE, the international black market exchange of human organs is exposed with grisly detail and gritty existential inquiry. The documentary follows several people involved in the trade as either a “criminal” surgeon, a desperate-for-cash donor, or a desperate-for-life patient.
You can dive into the ethical questions for yourself when the film screens, but let’s start with the facts: In the world today, human organs are scarce, and poor people are not. Given the opportunity, many of these poor people would welcome the chance to donate a non-requisite body part (like a kidney) in exchange for an incentive. A kidney donation has the potential to save two lives equally, providing a large, blessed sum of money to someone in dire need (one of the film’s donors, for example, lives in a crawlspace under someone else’s house) and providing a vital organ to save the life of someone who is suffering and is willing to pay for it.
The TALES FROM THE ORGAN TRADE filmmakers are granted unprecedented access to several key players in the underground organ trade world, including “Doctor Vulture” himself—the highly qualified doctor wielding the clinically sanitized (but ethically unsanitary) surgical tools that have sliced open thousands of eager abdomens. We, as viewers, are taken through the streets of Moldova, the Philippines, Canada, Kosovo, and beyond to see the real faces behind these very visceral, and very real, organ “donations” (or are they transactions?).
During my 70-ish minutes with the film, a few questions that began to materialize in my mind included:
- What is exploitation?
- Can you be exploited if you know all of the facts?
- Should the government be able to regulate the voluntary donation of a person’s own organs?
- Is it wrong to accept money for an altruistic act?
I appreciated the way that the film featured so many viewpoints instead of making the unpleasant mistake of sidling up to only one perspective. This movie is a real conversation starter for anyone who enjoys discussing morality, ethics, the state of healthcare, and the problem of poverty. Hearing about an illegal trade of organs is one thing; seeing the names and faces associated with the trade is quite another, and the faces of the people who talked about their experiences in this film continued to stay with me long after the last shots of shuttered kidney-transplant clinics in Kosovo had faded.
Note: If you’re not fond of video footage that includes surgery and blood, please don’t try to stomach this movie about surgery and blood.
The 2013 Indianapolis International Film Festival will take place July 18 to 28. Secure your tickets now for TALES FROM THE ORGAN TRADE.