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Position Statement

February 21, 1997  

Debunking the Kidney Heist Hoax

To all interested persons:

A persistent and totally false urban myth has gained new life and notoriety thanks to the Internet. The myth, often told from someone's "personal experience," describes a business traveler who is heavily drugged, then awakes to find he or she has had one kidney (or sometimes both) removed for a black market transplant. The setting for this scenario is often a popular tourist destination such as New Orleans or Las Vegas.

Some folklorists claim the roots of this story date back centuries, but it has been told in a transplant setting for at least ten years. Over the last few weeks, UNOS has learned that a version of this story has been circulating rapidly on Internet discussion groups and the internal e-mail systems of a number of organizations. Often the message is accompanied with an official-sounding header or warning, such as "Business Travelers' Advisory." Sometimes there are added personal comments or "testimonials" from people who claim they know victims of this scenario.

There is absolutely no evidence of such activity ever occurring in the U.S. or any other industrialized country. While the tale sounds credible enough for many listeners, it has no basis in the reality of organ transplantation.

Many people who hear the myth probably dismiss it, but it is possible that some believe it and decide against organ donation out of needless fear. The Washington Post first ran a story about the kidney heist myth on April 2, 1991 in which the writer traced back the origin of the myth to a rejected movie script. A second article printed in the Washington Post on January 30, 1997 shed light on this latest iteration of the myth on the Internet.

If you have questions, please contact the UNOS News Bureau at (804) 327-1432.