Tales From the Organ Trade

What would you do if your life depended on it?

Tales From the Organ Trade Every sixty minutes a human organ is sold on the black market. This doc takes a gritty and unflinching descent into the shadowy world of organ trafficking, introducing us to the street-level brokers, the rogue surgeons and the those willing to sacrifice a slice of their own bodies for cash. And on the other side, we see the world of the desperate patients, who face the agonizing choice of either obeying the law or saving their lives.

"This is my dialysis machine", Mary Jo says as she moves a screen to reveal an enormous contraption. "I'd say it takes at least a year to really get used to sticking sharp needles in your arm. You have to do dialysis every other day. It just changes you." She winces as she sticks a series of needles into her arm and watches the blood start to flow. For eight years this has been her routine while she waits for a kidney.

Fifty years ago, there would have been no hope for Mary Jo - a dying patient resurrected by a transplanted body part was the stuff of science fiction. Today, it is an everyday miracle. Every year, tens of thousands of organ transplants are performed around the globe. But demand for a kidney far exceeds the supply. So, as Walter Rassbach explains, many patients on donor lists face a desperate decision. "I have to decide whether I'm willing to take on my soul, the ethical burden of purchasing a kidney from somebody. Or choose to die."

In the void a black market has flourished. International organizations monitoring the situation estimate - conservatively - that black market transplants generate over $500 million a year. In some Philippine villages nearly every man has sold one of his kidneys for the price of a laptop. In neglected shards of the former Soviet Empire criminal gangs tease donors with promises of vast sums of cash; and in places like Philadelphia, a craigslist ad urges an unemployed hustler into an operating room with a $20,000 payoff. "I'm going to get my kidney taken out because I need to lift my family out of poverty," Eddieboy tells us. The $2,500 he'll earn for it is more than he could earn in two years in the Philippines.

With unbelievable access, we're drawn into the murky depths of this world. We meet the transplant surgeon, the glib and defiant fugitive Turkish doctor dubbed "Dr. Frankenstein" by the international media; the nephrologist, a distinguished Israeli physician who sees no evil in paying for human organs; the prosecutor, a crusading Canadian working for the European Union and the donor, a beer-loving woman from a fledgling Eastern European republic who willingly sold her kidney and is now at the centre of the world's most notorious organ trafficking case.

Through a nuanced and complex journey, where villains save lives and victims walk away happy, this remarkable film compels you to explore your moral and ethical beliefs. What would you do if your life depended on it?


Laurel Winner, Edward R. Murrow Award, Overseas Press Club of America, 2014
Laurel Winner, Docutah 2013
Laurel Winner, Documentary Edge Festival 2013
Laurel Winner Special Jury Award, Nevada International Film Festival 2013
Laurel Winner Best Feature Documentary, Tenerife International Film Festival 2013
Laurel Official Selection, Hotdocs 2013
Laurel Official Selection, Raindance Film Festival 2013
Laurel Official Selection, Fantastic Fest 2013
Laurel Official Selection, Film Stockholm Festival 2013
Laurel Official Selection, Docufest 2013
Laurel Official Selection, Margaret Mead Film Festival
Laurel Honourable Mention, Best Feature Length Documentary, Ojai Film Festival

The Producers

Ric Esther Bienstock is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker best known for her groundbreaking investigative documentaries. Her films, including “Sex Slaves (aka The Real Sex Traffic)”, “Ebola: Inside an Outbreak (aka The Plague Fighters”, “Boxing: In and Out of the Ring” and Ms.Conceptions”, have screened at over 60 international festivals and have aired in over 50 countries. She has garnered dozens of prestigious awards, including an Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism, an Edward R. Murrow Award, a Dupont Columbia Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism, a Royal Television Society Award, 2 Hot Docs Awards as well as a BAFTA nomination.

Making The Film

When I set out to make Tales From the Organ Trade I thought I was embarking on a very black and white story of desperation and exploitation - the story of affluent first world patients in dire need of a kidney, travelling abroad to buy an organ from an impoverished, but equally desperate, victim from the third world. I travelled around the world – to Kosovo, Turkey, Israel, Moldova the Philippines, the U.S. and Canada – and met with organ brokers, transplant surgeons, victims, recipients, lawmakers and ethicists. The picture that emerged was not a black and white story of exploitation, but rather, a nuanced and complex story that forced me to question my own moral and ethical assumptions.

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