How much is a body worth? Out to expose the global trade in human body parts and indeed ‘whole’ children, American Scott Carney puts an estimate on his own body—heart, blood, kidneys, hair, semen, bones—around $2,50,000, several times more than what an average Indian ‘donor’ is worth. Carney, who worked as a journalist for several years in India, travelled across the country to investigate the thriving body parts market catering to an international “red market”. He travels to desecrated graves in rural West Bengal to unearth the illegal trade in bones and visits a dormitory filled with surrogate mothers in Anand, frequents a slum in Chennai better known as ‘Kidneyvakkam’ and lands up at a blood factory in Gorakhpur.
Carney sometimes even becomes part of the red market. In Tirupati, he offers his hair to the temple which sells it to beauty parlours abroad; in the US, he turns himself in for a trial for a Viagra spinoff, ending up with an “unsexy combo” of a splitting headache and a throbbing erection.
Carney argues forcefully for lifting the practice of keeping ‘donors’ anonymous, to prevent middlemen from cornering most of the revenue. Like the farm-to-fork mechanism that helps consumers track what they eat, should not consumers of body parts know where their human spares come from? A stirring read, revealing how the poor and dead from India keep the red market bubbling in the developed world.