April V. Taylor
In a 2006 article, USA today estimated that more than 16,800 families had been represented in lawsuits that claimed that their loved ones’ body parts had been stolen for profit over the course of the previous 19 years. The estimate was based on data from federal and local investigators, lawsuits and public organizations such as medical universities.
The lucrative business of illegally harvesting and selling organs and body parts without consent does not appear to have slowed down since then. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 7,000 kidneys are illegally obtained by traffickers every year. Other organs such as hearts, lungs and livers and human tissue such as bones, tendons and other body parts are illegally harvested all over the world for transplant, research and education.
The illegal harvesting of organs and tissue from Black men, woman, and children who are kidnapped and murdered is not covered widely in the mainstream media and is many times written off has more of a conspiracy theory than fact. However, there are several cases that prove that illegal organ harvesting from Black people is happening, not just in other countries, but right here in the United States.
In 2008, former dentist Michael Mastromarino was indicted for stealing more than 1,000 bodies in order to sell body parts and tissue. Michael Brown of Murrieta, California kept bodies that he was supposed to have cremated and sold them for more than $400,000. These men and others who participate in the illegal harvesting and trade of body tissue leave many families without answers about what happened to their family members organs and/or body parts.
The illegal harvesting of organs from Black people seems to be more sinister due to the fact that organs must be harvested not long after death for them to be viable for transplant. This leads to cases where families have trouble finding answers about the mysterious circumstances their family members died under.
One such case is that of 14-year-old Jason Smith in Eros, Louisiana whose death was ruled an accidental drowning despite the fact that his organs were missing when his body was found. A case that received more attention but did not provide the family with any more answers is that of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson whose death was initially ruled to have been the result of accidental suffocation. A second autopsy yielded a different conclusion, but when the second autopsy was performed, his body had been stuffed with newspaper, and his organs were missing.
More recently in September 2020, 24-year-old Ryan Singleton’s body was found in a California desert with his eyes, heart, lung, liver and kidneys missing. Singleton’s mother believes that his organs were stolen because the rest of his body remained in tact, meaning the organs had not been eaten by animals.
As the disparity between supply and demand for organs continues to be insurmountable, authorities are considering rewriting the 1984 law that bans the sale of organs, but in the meantime, the World Health Organization estimates that a human organ is illegally sold every hour, and families all over the world are left without answers about their loved ones death’s and burials.