Blood Markets in India

As though to confirm the arguments in Enrique Guerra-Pujol’s chapter, “Buy or Bite?”, Wired brings us an excerpt from Scott Carney’s new book The Red Market, which documents the illicit trade in blood, bones, organs, and other body parts. The excerpt tells the story of an Indian man held captive in a blood-letting factory:

For the last three years the man had been held captive in a brick-and-tin shed just a few minutes’ walk from where the farmers were drinking tea. The marks on his arms weren’t the tell-tale signs of heroin addiction; they came from where his captor, a ruthless modern-day vampire and also a local dairy farmer and respected landowner named Papu Yadhav, punctured his skin with a hollow syringe. He had kept the man captive so he could drain his blood and sell it to blood banks.

In total, Yadhav held some 17 people captive in this fashion in what came to be called “The Blood Factory.” An argument against markets in blood, you might think… until you realize that in fact, selling blood is already illegal in India. These poor souls are the victims of black markets in blood, created by the illegality of blood sales (along with the general unwillingness of Indians to donate blood voluntarily). Carney vividly describes the process by which spot transactions turned into a form of slavery:

The $3 he gave for a pint of blood would buy food for several days. It was illegal, but it was also easy money. Yadhav could easily turn over common blood types for $20 quick profit, while rarer groups could fetch up to $150 a pint. It didn’t take long for the situation to deteriorate. As his operation grew, he got tired of trolling the city’s transit points. So Yadhav offered the donors a place to stay. With the men under his roof, it was only a matter of time before he took control of their fates though a mixture of coercion, false promises, and padlocked doors.

The buyers of blood, it turns out, are legitimate hospitals and medical clinics desperately in need of blood and unable to get enough through legal channels. One could argue that the true culprit here is economic deprivation, the existence of people desperate enough to make a living selling their blood. But it seems unlikely to me that, in a legal market for blood, holding people hostage in a secret Blood Factory would be a more economical business model than simply paying for their donations. Wherever we lay the blame, this much is clear: the law cannot eliminate markets for valuable resources; it can only drive them underground.

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