João Cavalcanti was among the first of the Recife slum residents recruited to travel to Durban, South Africa to provide a spare kidney to an international transplant tourist. On his return, Cavalcanti helped recruit new donors for the scheme and was eventually arrested, along with 11 others, for organized crime and human trafficking. But the “mutilated boys” of Recife — as the Brazilian media labeled them — refused to accept the idea that they had been “trafficked,” instead asserting that they had taken an opportunity to travel to Africa. This talk grapples with the consequences of organs trafficking and the very different meaning selling a kidney has for the Brazilian cohort compared to the Romanians and Israelis with whom they shared quarters in a Durban safe house.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes is the Chancellor’s Professor in Medical Anthropology at UC Berkeley and the director of Organs Watch.