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The trade in human organs in Tamil Nadu: the anatomy of regulatory failure


There has been much recent interest in the trade in human organs in India. This paper examines both the extent to which regulatory controls through the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (1994) are effective in curbing commercialization and the nature of the constraints on the effective implementation of this Act. The study, a politico-economic analysis of health sector regulation, is based on a stakeholder analysis drawing on the views of key decision makers, service providers, organ donors and recipients. The findings indicate widespread acknowledgement of an organs trade and highlight four major constraints on the effective implementation of the Act: the commercial interests of middlemen and service providers, the ambiguities and loopholes in the Act; the low monitoring capacity of the regulatory authorities, and the pressures and responsibilities exerted upon the Authorizing Committees. A feature of the Act is that its implementation is subject to a major incentive compatibility constraint – it is seemingly not in the interests of any of the key players, including the regulatory authorities, to restrict the organ trade. To some extent, this institutional problem is created by the specific nature of the regulatory intervention, and, as a consequence, measures involving straightforward redrafting of the regulation might go some way to addressing this incentive problem. Another solution may entail a ‘harm-reduction’ strategy involving a controlled trade where procurement and organ matching is carried out by a government agency (this would require, however, the prior resolution of the broader ethical question concerning the legitimacy of such trade).

Corresponding author
Correspondence: The George Institute for International Health, Sydney, PO Box M201, Missenden Rd, NSW 2050, Australia. Email:
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Health Economics, Policy and Law
  • ISSN: 1744-1331
  • EISSN: 1744-134X
  • URL: /core/journals/health-economics-policy-and-law
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