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Urban Legends

Kidney Thieves

The Legend

A student, person on a business trip, or people who picks up (or is picked up by) a stranger in a bar is slipped a drugged drink and awakens in an ice-filled hotel bathtub. A message telling them to call 911 or go to the hospital is written nearby, and they soon discover that one of their kidneys has been stolen by an organ thief.


Behind the Legend

It's hard to call something a legend when it is so obviously true, but the vast numbers of occurrences of organ theft and the wide array of recountings of these horrible crimes make them the stuff of folklore.

For those of you who are not familiar with this wave of criminal terror, here are the details.

Organs are worth a lot of money on the open market. A single working kidney can be worth as much as $10,000 to a black-market organist. For money like that, there is a lot of incentive to make off with the innards of the innocent or semi-innocent.

Kidney thieves generally strike people who are likely to casually "hook up" with a member of the opposite sex for a one-night fling. This includes college students, business travelers, singles in bars, and men. If you fit into one of these categories, you can help protect yourself against becoming an unwilling harvestee by following a few simple rules:

  • If you just met an incredibly attractive person and they are in a hurry to get you to a local hotel, check their background before you count your blessings.
  • Refuse requests for tissue typing, particularly by people you don't know well. Even if it "will only take a minute" and "won't hurt a bit," it's not worth the risk.
  • If you notice that your "date" is carrying a scalpel, disinfectant, bandages, and other surgical equipment in her purse, or the "nice man you met at the bar" has a cooler with a biohazard sticker on it in the back seat of his car, proceed with caution.
  • Be suspicious if your date asks you to go to the ice machine more than six or seven times before "getting it on."
  • When dating, don't drink anything.
  • Have "body contains no working kidneys" tattooed on your lower back.
  • Don't visit hotbeds of organ theft, such as Las Vegas, New Orleans, or Houston. Oregon, ironically, is relatively safe.
  • Wear a surgical steel girdle with a strong lock and leave the key at home.
  • Since organ harvesters almost never target gay people, consider dating within your gender.
  • If you are married, bring your spouse with you on business trips instead of relying on prostitution or cheap casual sex. You will lower your chances of a dangerous encounter significantly, since less than 10% of organ thefts are perpetrated by spouses.

There is also at least one documented case in which the space vacated by the kidney was filled with baggies of heroin intended for delivery to an intern who was a pusher at a hospital, so if you do fall victim to this crime, be sure to carefully question anyone who wants to "just take a look" at your injury, and consider having the police bring a drug-sniffing dog to check your back.

You can also fight against this crime by helping to break up organ-harvesting rings. For example, if your spouse comes home with a large, unusual scar on the lower back after a business trip and is reluctant to discuss the matter, contact the police. And if you are going to be traveling, consider purchasing a LowerBackJack stolen-kidney tracking device.

You can also discourage organ harvesting by only buying your organs from legitimate dealers. Do not purchase anything medical from someone you meet on the street, and ignore "Cheap new kidneys!" e-mail spam as it is likely not legitimate. For the same reasons, do not purchase new or "slightly used" organs from online auction sites. And if you ever find yourself tempted, remember that organs and other body parts, if not properly prepared, can try to take over your body and/or to kill you as detailed in such documentaries as The Hands of Orlac and, more recently, The Eye.

Finally, remember that it's not just kidneys that thieves are after. You can find yourself in a tub of ice with a missing lung, leg, or frontal lobe just as easily as a kidney, and some of the most talented "hit and run" thieves can lift a finger almost without lifting a finger. Beware!


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