Around a week ago, two Iranian newspapers, Jahan-e Sanat and Etemad, published reports saying that the collapse of the Iranian currency has led to an increase in the sale of body parts in Iran and their purchase by patients abroad. These reports received a lot of attention.
The Judiciary Media Center quickly accused the two papers of “publishing unfounded material,” and Tehran’s prosecutor summoned the publishers to court to explain and present evidence for their articles. Following the summons, both papers removed their reports from their websites and from their social media accounts.
In a field report on May 4, the newspaper Jahan-e Sanat wrote that sale of body parts has increased because Iranians have fallen into the “valley of poverty.” It referred to an alleyway in Tehran that has been known as the “kidney market” for years. Firoozgar Hospital, which specializes in urology and kidney diseases, is located near that square.
In this alleyway, advertisements can now be seen in this alleyway for liver, bone marrow and cornea transplants and for sperm and ovum donations, according to the report.
The report by the newspaper Jahan-e Sanat about the increase in the sale of body parts in Iran
The report said that the price for a kidney fluctuates between 500 million and one billion tomans, while the Kidney Foundation of Iran has announced a price of 80 million tomans. The actual price depends on how ill the recipient patient is, the blood type and also on the middleman who arranges the deal between the seller and the buyer.
“Almost [all organ sellers] do this because of financial problems. Selling body organs is not confined to a specific age group and gender and most of them are between 18 and 40 years old,” the report said. It also pointed out that the families of many patients inside Iran cannot afford to buy these organs and are forced to sell their car or their home to save the lives of their loved ones.
The article said that some of the middlemen send Iranians who need to sell their organs to neighboring countries such as the United Arab Emirates (Dubai) or Turkey where they can sell an organ for between $7,000 to $15,000.
The report published by the newspaper Etemad was similar, although it had a catchier title: “Iraqis are in the market for buying Iranian kidneys in dollars!” a clear reference to the reality of the lives of millions of Iranians who face unsolvable financial problems because of the freefall of the Iranian currency.
The articles had been quoted extensively by Persian-language media outlets outside Iran and on social media.
The Reports Are Removed but the Sale of Organs Continue
On May 5, while the newsrooms of Jahan-e Sanat and Etemad were preparing their Saturday edition, the Judiciary Media Center accused these two papers of “publishing unfounded material.” Within minutes after the announcement by the judiciary’s media watchdog, the two articles were removed from the newspapers' websites and social media accounts. As of now, neither newspaper has given a reason for doing so.
Meanwhile, what the Islamic Republic jargon calls “donation of organs in exchange for money” continued unabated.
In a video posted online, Suri Babaei Chegini, an anti-hijab activist who had been arrested earlier along with her husband Reza Behboudi, reported that her husband was forced to sell a kidney after their car was confiscated by the authorities. The vehicle was the couple's only source of income. “Do you want me to sell my heart and my kidney as well so that I can provide for these three children?”, she asks Islamic Republic officials.
Suri Babaei Chegini: “I have to sell my kidney like my husband did”
The reports by Jahan-e Sanat and Etemad also pointed fingers at the middlemen and the inadequate laws to control the organ market. What is more, it seems that in the past few years, the Islamic Republic has been engaged in normalizing the sale of body organs.
For example, in July of 2019 when Ebrahim Rais was the head of the judiciary, this branch of the government passed a set of bylaws, called “Rules for carrying out sentences of physical punishment, execution, mutilation, lashing and exile,” which would have allowed the sale of organs of inmates on death row.
Article 47 of these bylaws stated: “If the condemned person volunteers to donate organs before or after the death sentence is carried out and there are no medical reasons to deny the donation of the organs, the judge responsible for carrying out the penal code shall act according to a guideline that will be issued within three months after the approval of these bylaws with the cooperation of the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Medical Organization and is approved by the head of the judiciary.”
After these bylaws were approved, Iran’s medical community criticized them as being inhuman and unethical.
In a letter to Raisi, Dr. Iraj Fazel, known as “Iran’s father of transplantation,” wrote: “Using body organs of those sentenced to death has a very horrid, heinous and extremely objectionable history. It would not help those in need and would also seriously threaten and undermine the reputation of the practice of organ transplantation that has been gained by years of work and sacrifice by a group of doctors in this country.”
Finally, in September 2019, after vociferous opposition from the medical community and some influential religious authorities, the project of using body parts of inmates was removed from the judiciary’s agenda.
Another thing that perhaps is contributing to the normalization of the sale of body organs is that medical societies involved in transplant operations have announced a list of prices for these organs. For example, in 2020, the Kidney Foundation of Iran set the price for each “donated” kidney at 80 million tomans. Earlier, this foundation had set the price for each kidney at 19 million and then 34 million tomans, apparently adjusting the price to inflation.
Even a website for selling and buying kidneys has been set up with the cooperation of this foundation. Officials at the Health Ministry and organizations specialized in organ transplants justified this approach by pointing to the long line of people waiting for transplants and the need to motivate potential organ donors. However, they didn't say anything about the government's duty to provide impoverished citizens with the basic necessities of life.
The Freefall of the Currency and the Auctioning of Body Parts
The report published by the newspaper Jahan-e Sanat cited poverty and the high value of the US dollar as factors that persuade low-income Iranians to sell their organs. And, as a result of successive economic crisis and the fall of Iranian currency against the US dollar and other international currencies, many seek to sell their organs, especially their kidneys, beyond Iran's borders.
During the Iranian calendar year of 1401 (March 21, 2022-March 20, 2023), the Iranian currency dramatically depreciated. That year, the rial fell by 170 percent to the US dollar in the open market. According to the Statistical Center of Iran, inflation reached 46.5 percent, but many experts believe that the actual rate is much higher.
Iranian media have presented the drop in the value of Iranian currency as a motive for farmers and domestic manufacturers to produce foodstuff and goods for export. But it appears that the freefall of the rial has pushed Iranians to put their body organs on the auction block.