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Iran Rolls Out ‘Organs For Graves’ Program To Spur Organ Donations

Sellers and buyers advertise their kidneys or needed one by writing their blood type and phone number on posters or walls of the street close to several of Tehran's major hospitals. Undated

Those who opt to become organ donors will be entitled to a free burial plot when they die, the Islamic Republic’s Health Ministry has announced.

"To promote a culture of organ donation, plot 305 at [Tehran's main cemetery] Behesht-e Zahra has been allocated to people who volunteer to donate their organs,” Health Ministry transplantation department head Mehdi Shadnoush told state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) March 14.

One close relative of every organ donor will also get a free plot, according to Shadnoush, who says the ministry plans to expand the organs for graves offer beyond the capital to the whole country.

Facing increasing economic hardships, more and more desperate Iranians are turning to the grisly practice of offering their organs for sale. In cities across the country one can see signs pasted to trees, walls, and shop windows that read “kidney for sale,” accompanied by a telephone number.

Iran is the only country in the world that facilitates the legal sale of kidneys. The government matches buyers and sellers and sets a fixed price of $4,600 per kidney. According to the LA Times, more than 30,000 kidneys have been transplanted through the scheme. However, it hasn’t stopped some from seeking a higher price for their kidney on the black market.

While organ donation rates have been growing over the past 18 years, according to Shadnoush, it’s still not enough to meet the demand, leading to organ sales both legal and illegal.

Shadnoush noted that 57 percent of kidney donations come from donors who are brain dead and have agreed to have their organs harvested in that event. He also highlighted Iran’s success with liver transplants, saying Iranian doctors have so far carried out 5,500 liver transplants.

It is unclear if the Health Ministry’s organs for graves program will encourage organ donation. The market price of a burial plot at Tehran’s main cemetery offered for free in the program is between $180-$220, much less than the price an organ can fetch on either the legal or black market.