Here’s why it is illegal to sell your kidney

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on the issue of harvesting and trading in body organs, with Ugandans even joking about the possible financial value of selling one of their kidneys. 

Our clinical officer, Barbra Apio sheds light on the subject, explaining why we all need two kidneys, how those that have one kidney survive, and most importantly she gives much-needed guidance on the illegality of organ trade in Uganda and elsewhere in the world.

What is a kidney?

The kidney is a bean-shaped organ that is found in the abdomen. Typically, every human being is born with a pair of kidneys. There are however some cases where one is born with one kidney. 

What do kidneys do?

The kidney’s function is to filter everything that goes into our bodies. Human beings on a daily basis eat and drink so many different things. So, the kidneys act as filters taking out the toxins or unnecessary things and taking them out as urine. 

The kidneys also produce a hormone that stimulates your bone marrow to produce blood cells that are necessary for optimal body functioning. 

Why does one need two kidneys?

The two kidneys ensure that your body achieves peak performance in terms of filtering and taking out the things your body does not need. 

How can one survive on one kidney?

There are categories of people who are surviving with one kidney including those born with one kidney and people who have donated one of their kidneys.

For people born with one kidney, their bodies start to adapt right from the time they are born. They usually have a larger kidney in terms of size and it compensates for the fact that they have one rather than two kidneys. Their one kidney can perform at nearly the same rate as the two kidneys.

However, when you donate a kidney, your single remaining kidney does not compensate for the one that you have lost. The one remaining kidney will continue to function at the same rate that it would when you had two kidneys. People that donate kidneys have to therefore be extra careful in protecting the integrity of their remaining kidney as compared to people with two kidneys.  This does not mean that people with two kidneys should be reckless with their health but when you have one, there is extra care required for you to maintain that kidney. This includes having a healthy diet,  making sure that your immunity is boosted, and avoiding things that would put you at risk of getting an injury to your kidney for example rough sports like wrestling or rugby. 

Why is it illegal to sell your kidney?

There are regulations developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that govern the donation of organs including kidneys. 

      • One of them requires that kidney donors must be healthy, both mentally and physically. This means one should not have a chronic illness at the time of donation for example HIV, Hypertension, or Diabetes. 
      • The donor must also be an adult (over 18 years old). 
      • There must also be informed consent which means that the donor must totally understand the risks involved, and the possible implications and agree to all this in a signed document.

WHO prohibits the purchase of kidneys and organs in general. It is, therefore, illegal for one to sell or buy a kidney. However, this regulation does not prohibit the recipient of a kidney from giving the donor money either as a token of appreciation or as compensation for any expenses incurred in the process of donating.

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