The Straight Dope

Greetings, Master. I've checked the archives and found no reference to the following story, which is supposed to have come from the Daily Texan, the University of Texas newspaper.

This guy went out last Saturday night to a party and had a couple of beers. Some girl seemed to like him and invited him to another party. He quickly agreed. She took him to a party in some apartment and they continued to drink, and even got involved with some other drugs (unknown which). The next thing he knew, he woke up completely naked in a bathtub filled with ice. He was still feeling the effects of the drugs but looked around to see he was alone. He looked down at his chest, which had "CALL 911 OR YOU WILL DIE" written on it in lipstick. He saw a phone on the stand next to the tub, so he picked it up and dialed. He explained to the EMS operator what the situation was and that he didn't know where he was, what he took, or why he was really calling. She advised him to get out of the tub and look himself over in the mirror. He did, only to find two nine-inch slits on his lower back. She told him to get back in the tub immediately, and they sent a rescue team over. They found his kidneys were stolen. They are worth $10,000 each on the black market...

Is there any truth to it?
-- MLScola, via AOL

Dozens of folks have written me about this over the past few years, M. Initially I thought, well, at least now we know where they found the people for the first O.J. jury. Who could possibly believe this absurd urban legend, especially given the number of times it's been debunked in the media? Then again, you did write to me first, instead of spamming the story to everybody you know via e-mail, as many people do. Regarding the latter crowd, while I don't wish to be critical in any way, I've seen smarter life forms crawling on the side of a toilet tank. The facts:

(1)There is no documented case of kidneynapping, or for that matter any killing, abduction, or mutilation for purposes of organ theft. The National Kidney Foundation, which fears this persistent myth will scare off donors, has asked victims of organ theft to step forward. So far no takers.

(2)While I suppose it's possible to remove somebody's kidneys with a paper plate and an X-Acto knife, as a practical matter it can't be done. The operation customarily takes a five-person surgical team working for three or four hours in a sterile operating room. Much of the equipment required (anesthesia machines, operating tables) is bulky and not the sort of thing you could readily sneak into an apartment, hotel room, et cetera. The tissue and blood types of the donor and donee must be precisely matched; you can't just grab the first mope you see in a bar.

(3)None of the checkable details in the story pans out. The Daily Texan says it never ran the kidney theft story, though it has run several denials. This is the third time the UT version of the legend has made the rounds.

(4)The original version, in which a guy met a woman in a New York bar and later woke up kidneyless, dates back at least to March 1991. (See folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand's 1993 book, The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends.) It may have originated in a 1989 incident in England. A Turkish man told authorities he'd been lured to the UK by a job offer, only to have a kidney stolen. An investigation revealed that the man had advertised in a Turkish newspaper to sell his kidney, found a buyer, and evidently sought revenge after failing to collect full payment. (See the Urban Legends Reference Pages, www.snopes.com.)

The only thing that makes kidneynapping even slightly believable is the very real market for transplantable human organs, in which demand exceeds supply. (See David Rothman's March 26, 1998, piece in the New York Review of Books.) In India the desperately poor can sell a kidney for $1000 to $1500. The People's Republic of China doesn't even bother to pay; they extract organs from executed prisoners. A related legend, common in some developing countries, has babies being kidnapped by rich Westerners so they can be stripped for parts. In 1993 in Guatemala, one American tourist was beaten to death and another was jailed after they were falsely accused of babynapping. Stories of Third World babynappings aren't that far-fetched; black-market adoption rings allegedly do it. But nobody north of the border has that kind of excuse.

Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver "The Straight Dope" on any topic. Write Cecil Adams at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago, IL 60611; e-mail him at cecil@chireader.com; or visit "The Straight Dope" area at America Online, keyword: Straight Dope.

 
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