"There was this crazy albino guy with a hook, and he lived in a mirror! And if you even look at him, you'd wake up a bathtub full of ice with your kidneys gone!"Organ Theft, as the name would imply, is the practice of stealing people's organs via surgery, which can then be used for further purposes such as transplants or sold on the black marketnote One particularly common variant of this trope is the "kidney theft" Urban Legend, in which the victim is conned somehow and drugged into unconsciousness, and then wakes up kidney-less in a bathtub full of ice, often with a message attached telling them to go to a hospital. In case you're wondering, this fails the logic test for a few reasons:
— Donkey, Scared Shrekless
- Organ transplant requires lots of specialized equipment to remove the organ and keep it viable for transplanting — equipment not generally found outside a hospital.
- In the standard version, the perps display a monstrous disregard for the victim's human rights — yet they apparently still care enough to keep them alive. (To potentially file a police report no less.)
- Organ transporting containers are huge due to the amount of dry ice needed — the thieves would stand out to any witnesses they passed.
- Organs need to be checked for compatibility, both for blood chemistry and size. Also, the recipient would be highly vulnerable to any infectious disease the donor might be carrying. A random victim offers no guarantees on any account.
- It takes a lot of surgical skill and medical knowledge to extract a living organ and keep it in a condition where it can be transplanted successfully to another patient. You'll be hard pressed to find a Hippocratic Oath-bound surgeon willing to do this. Not to mention they're generally too well paid to need to resort to crime.
- It's the organ that needs to be kept on ice, but the legend always seems to involve the patient being left in a bath of the stuff, sedated — a great recipe for hypothermia.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Battle Angel Alita uses this early on, except with cyborg spines, which are probably much more removable than any human organ.
- An episode of the Get Backers anime featured this, though in a more realistic manner. The organ, a heart, had already been extracted in a legitimate medical operation, but the ambulance transporting the organ was then intercepted and hijacked by mercenaries. Ban and Ginji are then contracted by the father of the heart's intended recipient, a sickly Ill Girl, to retrieve it in just a few hours since the refrigeration unit will not be able to keep the heart good for very long.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
- An episode of had a trio of medical students sell discarded organs on the black market. Major Motoko Kusanagi later threatens to sell their currently-in-use organs on the black market to Scare 'em Straight by imitating the Yakuza who actually do sell organs on the black market.
- A later episode dealt with girls being kidnapped so that their organs and cybernetics can be sold off. Which apparently was based on a public scare that blamed North Korea for doing this to Japanese people.
- Genetically-transferred powers in Naruto tend to be tied to specific organs that can be transplanted into others. Eyes, arms, hearts, entire bodies, you name a body part, ninja are stealing it from each other. There's even a whole clan that got powerups from stealing each other's eyes. Though many of them (though not all) are courteous enough to kill the person before stealing their body parts.
- An episode of Trigun had a town that was dealing in smuggling girls who were selling their bodies as potential organ donors and as prostitutes.
- In Vandread the Harvesters raid human colonies for specific organs and tissues, such as the reproductive organs of the crew's homeworlds. The Harvesters were created by humans on Earth who, faced with a population collapse, became obsessed with lengthening their lifespans and came to view the colonies as organ banks.
- This happens to Plucky Girl Sakura Tomoe in an early episode of Weiß Kreuz. Because this is Weiß Kreuz, though, it isn't a bathtub that she wakes up in, it's an entire swimming pool full of ice. Unfortunately for her, the organ thieves in question later decide they're tired of doing things by halves.
- In an episode of Wolf's Rain some muggers tell our heroes there's a market for healthy young organs. Of course our heroes are only disguised as humans, and aren't about to part with their organs.
- The Wolkenritter hunting Linker Cores in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's is the magical equivalent, though they're being used to fuel an Artifact of Doom and they naturally grow back over time.
- In the "Heart of Hush" arc in the Batman comics, Mad Doctor Hush kidnaps Catwoman and removes her heart, keeping her alive by elaborate machinery, and uses her hostage heart in order to blackmail Batman.
- A two part Daredevil storyline revolved around Organ Theft.
- One of Howard the Duck's more persistent nuisances was "the Kidney Lady", an annoying old battleaxe who thought Howard was the ringleader in a kidney-stealing conspiracy.
- In Mega-City One of the Judge Dredd comic books, organ transplantation is illegal because it advanced to the point where it could render an individual immortal. Organ selling is a prevalent crime throughout Mega-City One.
- In JLA: Year One, The Brain comes into possession of a 'genegraft ray' which instantly and cleanly transplants organs of its targets. The Brain ends up pulling an All Your Powers Combined thanks to Flash's legs, Green Lantern's arm, Martian Manhunter's eyes and Black Canary's vocal cords.
- A two-part JSA: Classified story arc with Dr. Midnite featured a villain harvesting super-powered body parts to sell to wealthy patrons in the black market. The gruesome part is that the heroes whose body parts were stolen are often left alive after the procedure and basically crippled.
- Organ theft (AKA "Organleggers") was a common crime in the original Marvel 2099 comic book line whose victims could not afford to pay for police protection.
- In the Sin City yarn, Hell and Back, the protagonist finds that the Big Bad was into organ theft, among other things.
- In Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, the leader of the Decepticon Justice Division, a team of psychopaths (even by Decepticon standards) who hunt down Decepticons who betrayed the cause, Tarn is addicted to transformation. He made a deal with Pharma to provide him new T-cogs which are taken from other Transformers every time he burns out his own. He's gone through a lot of T-cogs.
- Grant Morrison's run on XMen featured a group of villains known as the U-Men, humans with a major fanboy affection for mutants... which drove them to "jump up the evolutionary ladder" by hijacking their superpower oriented organs. This often left the mutants dead, and occasionally led to the U-Men suffering organ rejection.
- In My Little Pony: Friends Forever #25, three thieves steal Rainbow Dash's wings with magic and attempt to use them to turn themselves into Alicorns. If the transfer could not be reversed in time, Dash would have lost her wings permanently.
- Johnny is taken by an organ harvest ring in the Emergency! fic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
- Hidden Frontier cast member Rebecca Wood (posting under her character name) claimed this had happened to a friend of her cousin. She became quite cross when forum friends gently pointed her to Snopes.com. After all, her mother and cousin wouldn't lie, would they?
- Subverted in Promstuck. It seems that Snowman has done this to Jack in the epilogue, but then he remembers that he's a carapace and doesn't have any organs that could be called kidneys.
- Awake: Clay and his mother joke about this as a solution to having to wait for his turn on the heart transplant list.
Lillith: "I'm serious this time. Let's go to China, try out luck on the black market."Clayton: "Why don't we just go outside, grab some random person, drag him in here and, y'know..."Lillith: "Sounds good to me. Drag 'em in and cut 'em open! Hey, whatever it takes, right?"
- In the 2015 section of Back to the Future Part II, a headline reads "Thumb Bandits Strike Again". In The Future, all transactions are carried out via thumbprint ID. The filmmakers speculated that this could lead to a new type of crime, where thieves cut off the thumb of their victim and use it to make illegal purchases, like stealing a credit card.
- There was this one Brazilian film called Central Station about this one retired schoolteacher who was offered $1,500 if she could persuade this one boy to go along with some organleggers.
- The Jason Statham action movie Crank: High Voltage starts with the main character getting his heart stolen. He then proceeds to kick ridiculously large amounts of ass while trying to keep his replacement organ running.
- Corrupt prison officials in Death Warrant have prisoners killed to sell their organs for profit.
- Dirty Pretty Things: the film revolves around illegal migrants yielding to terrible pressure and selling their kidneys to an organlegging outfit, and one Nigerian surgeon being strong-armed into working for them. The film ends with the protagonists stealing a kidney from the Big Bad who is running the operation, in order to give it to the client in place of the intended victim's. As you can see, this film has the trope all sewn up in a back room.
- The horror film The Harvest centers around kidney theft.
- In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus this turns out to be what Tony did to the children of his charity. He had previously claimed the reason for his disgrace was doing business with Russian gangsters in order to fund the charity.
- Through a series of odd events in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jay and Silent Bob find themselves hitchhiking with Scooby Doo and the gang (just don't ask). After a dream sequence in which they all get high, it is revealed that Jay and Silent Bob have fallen asleep.
Shaggy: Let's sell their kidneys on the black market and leave them in a seedy hotel on ice.Jay: AHHHHHH!!!!Of course, that was also just a dream.
- The creature from Jeepers Creepers committed periodic fatal organ thefts, for reasons that had more to do with hunger than transplantation.
- Koma's plot revolves around a series of organ thefts.
- The main bad guys of the Korean film The Man from Nowhere are Triad gangsters operating in South Korea that engage in organ harvesting. When they kidnap a girl named So-Mi, the little neighbor of one Cha Tae-Sik, to have her eyes harvested, things quickly turn out bad for them.
- Anderton buys a pair of black market eyes in Minority Report, so he can get past the retinal scanners that are literally everywhere.
- An unlucky fellow in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life had some gentlemen come to collect his liver, on the grounds that someone needed it and he'd filled out a liver donor card. Too bad for him he wasn't done using it...
Mr. Brown: Listen! I can't give it to you now. It says, "in the event of death"!Man: Well, no one who has ever had their liver taken out by us has survived.
- The Pet: The main antagonists are slavers who harvest organs.
- Repo Men has a similar concept, yet is completely different otherwise.
- Repo! The Genetic Opera: GeneCo makes artificial organs, which they repossess if a customer misses too many payments. The Repo Man is in charge of doing the actual repossessing, which usually results in the customer's death. Not for nothing are they often considered "legal assassins."
"Ninety day delinquent gets you Repo Treatment!"
- In RoboCop (1987), is said that OCP Corporation owns the cadavers of their employees (even if the employee is not quite dead yet).
- Mentioned in Saw. When Adam & Dr. Gordon wake up in the room, Adam looks over his body and tells Dr. Gordon that somebody may have stolen a kidney. Dr. Gordon assures him that that's impossible because if it was true, they would either be in extreme pain or dead.
- The Korean movie Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is about a man who sells his organs on the black market to get enough money to pay for his sister's hospital bills but is soon cheated out of his life savings.
- In Trespass, the robbers threaten to remove Avery's kidney if her father Kyle doesn't cooperate.
- Turistas and Train turned out to be about this sort of thing.
- Urban Legends
- One of the legends referenced by the serial killer in Urban Legend. Of course, the killer admits that they are not too good at anatomy and will probably just grab the first major organ they see.
- This is the first kill used in the sequel, Urban Legends: Final Cut, which was tagged on when it was realized that the film didn't have that much to do with actual urban legends.
- Snakehead, one of the later Alex Rider books, uses this as a justification for the villain keeping Alex alive yet again. He has Alex taken to a hidden facility where his various organs will be removed one-at-a-time (finishing with the heart) and sold to wealthy customers, allowing him to recover what Alex has cost him. Alex doesn't stick around.
- Blood Books: Blood Debt
- In Rick Griffin's short story Bravo Charli Charli's biker gang is coerced by a cartel boss to transport a sealed cooler to Santa Fe within seven hours. Halfway through the story she finds out it's a human heart.
- Burke mentions a Noodle Incident in which he acted as a go-between for a wealthy family seeking a heart for their dying child. He collects the heart, implied to have been taken from a child murdered for the purpose.
- Coma by Robin Cook. A hospital artificially induces brain death in healthy patients undergoing surgery. Their organs are then secretly removed and sold on the black market.
- The Igor clan of Discworld is known to harvest organs or limbs... but only postmortem, and mostly from people who have received a transplant performed by an Igor at some point in their lives. The Igors also practice this extensively upon themselves/other Igors, and when an Igor says he's got his father's eyes, he's not being metaphorical.
- In one of the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novels, this one is done rather weirdly. The Doctor is ill because something is the matter with one of his hearts. Luckily, the villain thought transplanting a Time Lord's heart to himself would help him time travel, so he stole it, curing the decaying heart problem but creating a new, massive-hole-in-the-Doctor's-chest problem. Good Thing He Can Heal. One of his hearts was a link to Gallifrey, which he'd destroyed in "The Ancestor Cell" (different Time War—this one was against Faction Paradox).
- Eveless Eden by Marianne Wiggins. An Intrepid Reporter discovers that the Romanian diplomat his girlfriend ran off with runs a company involved in selling blood products (everything from plasma to skin cream, as well as blood itself) taken from Ceausescu's hellish orphanage system. Thanks to the incompetent way the orphanages are run, HIV-tainted blood has long ago entered the system.
- Christopher Moore's Island of the Sequined Love Nun has two Big Bads convincing an island full of people that they are the personification of the local Cargo Cult gods. It turns out they have a database composed of the natives' medical information and are running an on-demand black organ market, harvesting (among other things) kidneys, hearts, and corneas.
- Larry Niven's Known Space series is the Trope Maker. Prior to the invention of cloned organs to replace failed ones, the demand for replacement organs is so high that lawmakers make more and more crimes punishable by death penalty, with the organs of the punished being harvested for use. Naturally, such a high demand makes it a high profit item, which attacts criminals who become as "organleggers" who are even less picky than the legal system about whose organs are harvested. Eyes in particular are noted to be in high demand, for criminals who wish to fool retina scanners.
- Kronk has roving "Bounty Hunters" who harvest the bodies of anyone who can't fight back and resell the organs to hospitals.
- In the Legends of Dune prequels it is claimed that the Bene Tleilaxu were originally slavers and organ dealers. They claimed that the organs were cloned but during the Butlerian Jihad the vats couldn't meet demand so they ripped most of them from captured slaves too injured to work.
- In the English sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go, the protagonist and her fellow students willingly submit to having their organs removed - they're all cloned humans created for the specific purpose of organ harvesting.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast has Lazarus Long mention how he'd never engage in killing people to strip them of their organs, but, he knows of several planets where you could point someone out, and a thug would quote you a price and ask which parts you want and "when and where did you want them delivered?" (He's giving the explanation to point out that there are some places where you can buy anything.)
- The novel Raylan by Elmore Leonard features a couple crooks doing this, but in a variation they're not selling the organs to others, but essentially holding them hostage for money from the person they were taken from, bypassing the whole comparability issue.
- Unwind takes this Up to Eleven in the most horrific way possible — not only is the process legal, it's used as a way to get rid of unwanted children and supported and run by the government.
- The dictator assassinated in the opening scene of Use of Weapons has used off-world technology to make himself young. There's a mention that his current heart once belonged to a young female anarchist, implying that dissidents executed by the state are being harvested.
- In The Wandering, the "murders" on Neshi's homeworld are all for the sake of supplying the government with organs, and not just for organ replacements, as Neshi finds out.
- In World War Z, Fernando Oliveira describes his participation in the transplant of a black market heart obtained from a "donor" in China. Unbeknownst to the recipient and the transplant team, China happened to be in the early stages of a Zombie Apocalypse at the time. The doctor goes on to suggest that this was the cause of many other Solanum outbreaks outside of China at the time.
- In Animorphs, a group of Andalites come to Earth to assassinate Visser Three (or so they claim). The actual sniper is a Boxed Crook named Aloth arrested for trying to sell the organs of warriors who fell in battle.
- Angel: Wolfram & Hart's subsidiary health care operation, the Fairfield Clinic, operates a body parts bank where organs are harvested from still-living prisoners.
- The Aquabats! Super Show! features the "in transit" variant: the Aquabats are assigned to transport a replacement brain to Governor Robot, and the villainous Silver Skull is trying to steal it from them - with Governor Robot incapacitated, Silver Skull will be able to usurp his authority. In a twist, he succeeds by impersonating the very general who gave the Aquabats the job in the first place.
- Variant on Bones, where bone and other tissues were being stolen from corpses. Unfortunately one of those corpses had cancer, and Booth's boss was not amused when his daughter contracted said cancer from one of said grafts.
- A later episode had this as the suspected motive for a murder, as a body missing several organs was discovered. Turns out the victim was killed in a blind rage; the killer felt guilty but couldn't bring him back to life, thus brought his body to an "organ dealer" so he could possibly save someone else's life. They do explore the organ black market, but the organs there are either purchased from living but desperate people or taken from corpses at a funeral home.
- Played for laughs in Call Me Fitz.
- Criminal Minds gives us Frank Breitkopf in Season Two, whose entire MO is sedating his victims and removing their organs while they were still alive, getting off on the fear on their faces as this was happening. It's unclear what he does with the rest of the organs once his victim is dead, but it is known that Breitkopf takes a rib from each of his victims to make a wind chime for his love interest.
- There was also a variation, where instead of stealing the organs himself, one man started killing organ donors in the hopes that his daughter would get a liver. It nicely sidesteps the issue of transport and removal (he even dropped one victim off at the hospital and called 911 before committing the other murders so EMTs would get there on time), but it still didn't work out how he wanted.
- Each of the spin-offs has had its own take on the trope as well.
- Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior had an episode where a man was attempting to harvest women's skin to graft onto his daughter's face. The team pointed out how futile this idea was, but he wasn't exactly stable.
- The Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders episode "Harvested" plays out the Urban Legend from the description, with a healthy dose of Reality Ensues, in that the victim dies. The killer wasn't even concerned about the organs' viability. His dead father had his liver, corneas, and heart donated (properly, by doctors in a hospital setting) and he believed he needed to replace them so that his father could be complete in the afterlife.
- Organ legging is mentioned in "Justice is Served" where a jogger turns up dead, with his liver and a couple other organs removed. At the end of the episode, it turns out the killer took the most blood-rich organs to make into a health elixir, convinced that that was the only thing preventing her from becoming sick.
- Another episode of CSI had organs being taken from dead bodies that were processed in a specific crematorium.
- In the CSI Trilogy crossover storyline, young women were abducted and smuggled cross-country by a network of criminal truckers. While most were forced into prostitution, those girls who fought back against their captors became salable body parts.
- CSI: Cyber: In "Fit-and-Run", the motivation for a series of kidnappings and murder turns out to be a father and a husband desperate to find a replacement kidney for a dying woman.
- CSI: New York:
- An episode had an organ being stolen after it was legitimately removed, with a murder or two in the process. It turned out the surgeon who removed it was behind the theft because his wife was dying and needed it.
- Yet another episode had a corrupt ex-coroner who'd been stealing organs and tissues for a different reason -to process them for the drugs they contained; the victims were all dead drug addicts from cases that came through his morgue.
- On Desperate Housewives, Katherine thought she'd found the perfect guy until she found out he'd been to prison for doing this. Of course, every adult living on Wisteria Lane has committed multiple felonies, but this was the one crime that was too much for them to accept.
- The Doctor Who story "The Brain of Morbius" is about a Mad Scientist trying to steal the Doctor's head, which he wants to finish off his Frankenstein's Monster.
- The Firefly episode "The Message" turned out to be about this: Tracy had to pretend to be dead to transport—and incubate—some super-viscera. And despite the stated cost of the organs, the guys who go to recollect shoot to kill. And in a way, Tracy kind of does this to himself, because the way he's smuggling the organs is that he had all of his replaced. Then he decided to go for a better offer, forgetting that the other people STILL had his original organs.
- Forever Knight had an episode with an organ theft ring. The first body was found dead in a dumpster, and later, Natalie almost ends up getting her heart stolen when she goes in for knee surgery by a desperate surgeon whose daughter was dying. Averts some of the problems with this trope, but not the compatibility one.
- In one episode of Grimm ("Organ Grinder"), teenage runaways are kidnapped and their organs harvested to sell on the black market, as human organs are used to make illegal drugs for wesen.
- An episode of Hannibal has the Behavioural Sciences Unit hunting someone who is taking organs to sell on the black market and doing a dodgy job of keeping his victims alive. They initially think it might be the work of the Chesapeake Ripper, a notorious Serial Killer who removes organs from his victims before killing and mutilating them, but we already know who the Ripper really is and what he's doing with the organs. The Ripper winds up using the organ harvester's activities as a smokescreen to do some, ehem, grocery shopping.
- The Haven episode "The Farmer" had Harry Nix. His Trouble is that he suffers from progressive organ failure, so he must regularly steal organs to replace his own. He can sprout a tentacle that can suck the victim's organs out of their body and absorb it. He is aware of the problem with organ compatibility, so he targets his illegitimate children from when he donated to a sperm bank. To make matters worse, his children run the risk of developing the same condition and being forced to harvest organs as well.
- On Heroes, Claire jokes that she has used her regeneration powers to sell a kidney for quick cash.
- Human Giant: A hypno-therapist steals Aziz's kidney while he's under. Then the paramedic who finds him knocks him out and steals his hair (for wigs). Then the the cop who finds him after that knocks him out and steals his ice from the bathtub and his right testicle.
- Done slightly more realistically with the witness of the week on In Plain Sight. It was a doctor removing kidneys from gastric bypass patients, since they are operating in the same area and the patient is likely to write off any problems caused by loss of kidney to complications from surgery.
- On Justified a group of criminals sell organs on the black market. However, they primarily harvest the organs from the recent corpses of people who died in prison rather than then by stealing them from living people. They have access to the prisoners' medical records and use people trained in this type of operation. The one time they operate on a live person it is a ruse to make the victim think that they took his kidneys so he will steal for them. All they did was make a couple cuts and sutured them up.
- Played straight on Law & Order, which may actually have helped disseminate the "kidney theft" urban legend (Snopes speculates that the plot, which Word of God claims a friend saw in a newspaper, was based on a false allegation published in the Daily Telegraph in 1989). SVU's Captain Cragen (who appeared in the episode) later dismissed such stories as urban legends.
- Leverage features a bizarre version in that a heart is stolen in transit for a rich businessman who is dying. As it was stolen from its intended recipient, a 15 year old kid, Nate commits everything to stealing it back.
- The Crapsack World of Max Headroom has "body banks" which will pay for organs — or whole bodies — with no questions asked.
- Nip/Tuck not only plays this completely straight, but it then becomes a relevant part of the season arc once we get to know the organ thieves.
- The RoboCop: The Series episode "What Money Can't Buy" deals with this as Murphy goes against a black market organ ring when two people steal a pair of lungs meant to save a boy Murphy helped rescue in the prior episode ("Officer Down") after his body started to reject the lungs he was given in an earlier operation. The duo and their boss stole the lungs for a crime boss and the boy's earlier lungs came from the same criminal ring and were taken from someone who died from tuberculosis.
- One episode of The Rockford Files featured an insane doctor who arranged "accidental" deaths in order to obtain and sell the victims' organs for his wealthy clients. He tended to target victims with rare blood types.
- Scrubs had one of JD's daydreams parodying the kidney theft legend.
- Gerry Anderson's Space Precinct had criminals engaged in organlegging.
- Star Trek: The Original Series has an example, in the infamous episode "Spock's Brain".
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- The Vidiians. Only that this is not so much organ theft as organ hijacking: they literally take away an organ from a person by teleporting it. When this happens to Neelix, the Doctor gives him Hard Light lungs until they can be replaced. In this case, the fact it's a cross-species theft raises serious Fridge Logic issues, as there's no reason why medicine that's advanced enough to perform xenografts couldn't turn to non-sentient animals as donors instead.
- The "urban legend" aspect does come up in conversation between Janeway and Chakotay.
- An episode of Las Vegas had a guest at the Montecito claim this had happened to him. He had a fresh scar and X-rays revealed he was short one kidney. It turns out that he'd already sold the kidney in an under-the-table deal with an ailing celebrity, and was trying to extort money from the casino for additional profit.
- White Collar had a multimillion dollar corporation involved in a conspiracy to sell body parts purchased in foreign countries to needy transplant patients, circumventing the organ transplant system and pocketing the "donations" from the grateful patients. Neal and Peter take them down, of course, when they try to sell to June's young granddaughter.
- Red Dwarf features an episode where Lister and the Cat are captured and restrained by an apparently rogue medi-droid. After being rescued, Lister wakes up in medbay and is told by Kryten that his kidneys have been stolen. He ultimately ends up going back in time to steal his kidneys from his past self, which is why they had gone missing in the first place.
- According to the old Gorillaz website, Murdoc had most of his internal organs surgically exchanged with 2D's.
Mythology and Folklore
- In the Andes region, there's the story of the Pishtaco, a cadaverous humanoid who murders people to steal their body fat and organs. What it does with the fat depends on the story; in some versions it eats the fat, while in others it sells the fat to corporations to use as machine lubricant. While the fat-stealing aspects are old, only in recent years has the Pishtaco begun stealing organs and working with corporations; folklorists attribute this to locals's beliefs that factories from the USA and other developed countries are exploiting them. This myth is more dangerous than it sounds; visitors to the regions have actually gotten killed because the locals thought they were one of them.
- According to a Cherokee legend, the shapeshifting cannibal ogress known as U'tlun'ta (or "Spearfinger") used her knife-like right forefinger to extract the livers out of her prey; her victims didn't notice until they rapidly sickened and died a few days later.
- Disturbingly, organ thieves appear in two Dilbert stories:
"The company is not planning to steal your organs while you sleep at your desks and sell them on the black market... not at the prices we were quoted."
- In comic, Dilbert's mom got her organs harvested by a store after she returned too many items.
- In one arc, Dilbert unwisely signs a contract that gives a company the right to harvest his organs. The company lawyer advises him to get a sworn affidavit from attractive female coworkers to prove he has cooties. (Much to his regret, he gets enough signatures rather quickly.)
- Cyberpunk 2020 has rules for selling organs to the Organ Banks. Officially you need the deceased donor card in order to donate the organs and get the reward, but in practice the paperwork can be easily faked and there's a thriving black market of spare parts, whose clients include corporates. There is also mention of a Organ lottery that runs in Night City.
- GURPS: Bio-Tech has a template for a freelance organlegger. The Evisceration spell from Magic is made for this exact purpose.
- Rifts. While natural organs are generally not bandied about it is mentioned that cyber-snatchers are a problem in crime-ridden areas, murdering people for their expensive cybernetic implants.
- Shadowrun. Tamanous is a criminal syndicate that deals in organlegging. They kidnap and murder the homeless and will pay for recently-dead bodies, and among other things are known for stripping dead bodies of their cyberware to sell on the black market. Street doctors have been known to engage in Organ Theft as well, including patients who can't pay their medical bills. Tamanous even has a way to get rid of the leftovers once all the saleable parts are gone - they sell them to ghouls.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Ork rippadoks from the universe tend to do this to their patients as a form of 'payment' for their services. Orks being Orks, however, don't usually miss the stolen organs, nor is compatability usually an issue (they can accept whole "donated" heads, for instance).
- Chaos Space Marines frequently raid their loyalist counterparts for gene-seed, as their own have been mutated beyond recovery by the Warp. How this is done tends to differ depending on the writer; either the Chaos Marines harvest the corpses of everyone on the battlefield or they will make a raid on one of the genetic labs found on a Chapter Homeworld or a Forge World tasked with storage of gene-seed tithes.
- Crypt of the NecroDancer opens with the villain stealing Cadence's heart after she takes a fatal tumble. He then resurrects her, and she sets out to learn what happened and find some way of breaking the curse.
- In Dead Rising 3, the Psychopath Albert Contiello is a greedy Mad Doctor who sees the Zombie Apocalypse as an opportunity to abduct survivors and harvest their organs for the black market. To make it even more horrific, he just straps them down and extracts the organs without using anesthetic, though he does sometimes inject them with hallucinogens, more for his own twisted amusement than to ease their pain.
- A weird example from the Fallout 3 expansion Point Lookout: after (unknowingly and involuntarily) undergoing trepanning, your character wakes up with a chunk of brain missing. This wasn't sold on a black market or anything, but put in a jar and kept as some sort of souvenir by your surgeon. You can actually recover your bottled Lump of Brain, though looking at the item fills you with "a terrible sense of loss."
- The Fallout: New Vegas expansion Old World Blues goes even farther, with the Think Tank removing your entire brain, along with your spinal column and heart and replacing them with cybernetic components. It's up to the player whether to put your original organs back or keep the robotics (both options offer their own stat buffs).
- The game Headhunter was set in a world where the organ market is very profitable. Weapons are designed so they don't damage the target's precious organs. There was a massive black market of organs. The player gets to explore the cargo-ship which is the centre of the operation.
- killer7 had organ theft as part of its so called plot. Made even creepier by the fact that the organs are taken from immigrant children and children abducted from a creepy theme park. Plus the things Curtis Blackburn did with the bodies of the girls he killed.
- On a Bad Moon run of Kingdom of Loathing, you can get your kidney stolen by a unicorn, and you can buy it back from the Black Market.
- The Lost Experience had a side plot involving sold organs. It didn't have much to do with anything other than adding to the general corruptness of the Hanso Foundation and providing Product Placement for Jeep. It also tied into Locke's backstory on Lost: his father, whom he'd never known, found him and struck up a relationship for the sole purpose of getting him to donate a kidney, then tossed him out again.
- An assignment in Mass Effect requires the player to bring to justice (or just kill) a doctor who managed a business of this sort... with a horrible, horrible twist: he paid homeless people to grow extra cloned organs inside their own bodies, with nightmarish medical implications. He'd then harvest the extra organs... if they grew properly. Otherwise he'd just leave you to die a terrible and painful death with two stomachs.
- In Max Payne 3 it turns out that the Cracha Preto and the UFE are working together to abduct the poor of Sao Paulo in order to murder them and harvest their organs for the black market. The revelation jams Max's Berserk Button in the ON position, and his rampage escalates rapidly.
- The Medic from Team Fortress 2 apparently lost his medical license after stealing a patient's skeleton. He also seem to deal in non-human organs as well, as we can only imagine what a "Mega Baboon" is suppose to be.
- In The Thrill Of Combat this is what you do for a living. Using a helicopter, stun beam and a rappelling surgeon to get the sweet, sweet organs and points.
- Sleeping Dogs: One of the Police side missions ends up uncovering an organ harvesting ring operated by the 18K Triad, who operate py preying on their rivals the Sun On Yee Triad. They kidnap Sun On Yeemembers off the streets, deliver them to a surgeon on the 18K's payroll, then dump the corpses in the harbour while the surgeon transplants the harvested organs into the 18K's paying customers. The 18K make a tidy profit while literally killing off their competition in the process, and since all the victims are triads, the cops won't care enough to look into their deaths to closely so operation stays under the radar.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution: The Harvester gang in Hengsha operate very similarly to this, and have the same terrifying reputation. Just swap "augmented parts" for "internal organs".
- Used in the Twist Ending of Charlie the Unicorn.
- Some Slender Man Mythos stories involve the titular character doing this. Although most of the time, it's organ stealing and haphazardly replacing with an extra item or two.
- Used humorously in an episode of Weebl & Bob, in which Bob goes to France and ends up having his kidney stolen by a French stripper named Kevin. According to the voiceover at the end of the episode, "the French are notorious kidney thieves".
- Lynn Tailor nearly lost her eggs (and more than likely her ovaries as well) due to a faulty Auto Doc in Data Chasers. A REAL doctor showed up and turned it off.
- Right after Nick and Ki's Big Damn Kiss in General Protection Fault when they reach Ki's apartment, their friend and colleague Fooker calls her to explain he is in Mexico right now and ... would she know someone with a kidney to spare?
- Gets played with in the Space plotline of Irregular Webcomic! Some of the crew get mugged and their organs stolen. So what do they do? Take the organs from their future selves who failed at going back in time and preventing their organs from being removed, and then later find their original organs and get those implanted inside themselves so that when their future selves get their organs removed, they'll have a spare set.
- In Something*Positive, Pepito did this to a guy to get the money for English lessons.
- Super Effective: Red blacks out after all his Pokémon are KO'd, and wakes up in ice with a pair of scars.
- Inverted in this xkcd, where a guy's ice is stolen and he wakes up in a bath full of KIDNEYS.
- In He Is A Good Boy, Crange (who is an acorn, and came from a tree that also had organs) dreams that he's taking a hot bath, but is woken up by remembering the tree he came from being brutally murdered and finds himself in a tub full of ice, with a hole in his torso and all of his organs gone. Before he sees the hole, he finds a note taped to his stalk that reads "Sorry we got a little carried away XOXO". Surprisingly, he finds that his organs weren't stolen by the Mad Doctor/Artist spider that had been using organs as a medium.
- In this Kevin & Kell strip, a rhino wakes up in a bath of ice with his horn missing.
- CollegeHumor: In the "Urban Legend ER" video, a doctor is about to perform an organ transplant when a woman bursts into the ER claiming that the kidneys are actually hers and that she woke up in a bathtub full of ice that morning with two huge scars on her back. After she faints, the doctor tells the nurse to give the woman her kidneys back.
- Subverted in American Dad!, Roger was planning to do this to Steve so he could sell the kidney for 50 million dollars to buy Dolly Land, but Steve woke up before he could and pointed out that Roger wouldn't get that much for a kidney. Roger gave up on the idea then.
- The plot of Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero revolves around Mr. Freeze kidnapping people who share the same blood type as his wife, which includes Barbara Gordon. She (correctly) points out that he could use any negative blood type to save her until it's revealed he's actually kidnapping them for this trope, and being as obsessive as he is is going after the same blood type to reduce the risks of rejection.
- On an episode of Drawn Together, Wooldoor does this to Toot.
- This was one of the urban legends used in Freaky Stories, although the moved it into the future to in an attempt to slightly reduce the Squick factor. In this version the guy's entire body got stolen, leaving him a disembodied head connected to a portable life support unit.
- In a Family Guy Valentine's Day Episode, Meg's date turns out to be a black market dealer who takes her kidney. After spending the day together, they kiss and he gives the kidney back to her in a jar.
- Spoofed in the episode "My Three Suns". A sleazy street vendor offers Fry some (supposedly) ill-gotten organs and almost operates on him ("I take lungs now. Gills come next week.") before Leela stops him.
- Spoofed again in "Spanish Fry." Fry loses his nose to alien poachers because "human horn" is considered an aphrodisiac. He gets it back, only for Bender to tell the aliens that, logically, they should want his "lower horn."
- Richard Nixon threatened to sell children's organs to zoos once.
- In "Murder on the Planet Express", Fry suspected Bender of using his toothbrush to polish his ass so he put up a camera in their apartment. Instead he caught Bender and a team of surgeons harvesting his kidney while he slept. Then Leela accidentally ate Fry's kidney after Bender stashed it in Hermes' lunch cooler, and the Professor got a manwich in place of a kidney transplant.
- In "Anthology of Interest II", when Leela comes to after the Professor knocks her out pulling a lever on the What If machine, it's revealed that he planned to harvest her organs while she was out cold but she woke up before he could. Hermes insists that he can try again next year.
- Invader Zim is notable as possibly one of the first examples of this in the history of children's television. Zim is afraid of being revealed as an alien by medical science and decides to pack his torso with human organs from the children at the school and replacing them with..."stuff" (random nearby objects). Oddly, this only seems to cause discomfort and severe fatigue, but it leaves Zim a grotesquely obese sack of organs. Of course, it was totally absurd from start to finish. For the record, it was hilarious.
- The Men in Black cartoon:
K: You have ten toes. You wake up one morning with one missing, how would you feel?
- The first episode dealing with Alpha involved him stealing a Sintillian heart. The victim didn't die as his species has two hearts and can live just fine with one, leading J to think that there's no problem. K quickly corrects him:
- Organ Theft is basically Alpha's hat. In his first appearances he had multiple alien body parts grafted to his body using Applied Phlebotinum. Notably the alien parts included heads which were still fully conscious, if under Alpha's control. He lost those in a Shape Shifter Swan Song, then reappeared with a completely new set that coincided with an animation change. By the time the series ended Alpha didn't even resemble anything human, although by then he'd moved on to robot parts.
- A Robot Chicken sketch involved a woman falling victim to this, and waking up just as the thief was leaving. She just laughs and points to the mirror, where she wrote "Welcome to the AIDS club!". They both have a chuckle over it.
"Good luck selling that organ!"
- One episode of Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century had an organ trafficking ring that turned out to be cloning (illegally) their products.
- In the South Park episode "Cherokee Hair Tampons", Kyle became sick and needed a kidney, but the only person with his bloodtype was Cartman, who naturally refused to give up one of his. Stan and Kenny break into his house one night to try to steal the kidney, only to find Cartman had thought of this and was wearing a 'Kidney Blocker 2000.' They later tricked Cartman into thinking they actually took it, and when he demanded that it be put back and willingly entered the operating room, the doctors removed it for real and gave it to Kyle.
- Transformers Animated: And Organ Theft among Mechanical Lifeforms is apparently a way of getting this past the censors. How else can you explain Lockdown? He's in it for the upgrades, and seems especially fond of parts that come from another Transformer's body.
Lockdown: "But don't worry... I got everything I wanted from you long ago."
- Transformers Prime:
- MECH has also stolen body parts from Transformers... leading to a scene explaining that certain parts of Transformers are more like biology than technology... and thus basically irreplaceable.
- MECH has also gone to the point of using an entire robot cadaver as a life-support system for their critically wounded leader, and it's every bit as horrible as it sounds.
- Starscream from Transformers Prime suffers from this trope when he underestimates his human allies and wakes up without his T-Cog. He spends most of a season running around the woods bitterly complaining about his fate.
- The Venture Bros. used the kidney theft variant in the episode "Dia De Los Dangerous." Better justified than many examples, since we know it was being done by a relatively poor doctor that Dr. Venture was going out of his way to be an ass toward. Yes, even more than usual.
- Largely averted in reality, as stealing organs from unwilling sources is a great way to infect your intended recipients with HIV, hepatitis, or other ailments. Illegal and/or for-profit kidney sales do happen in reality, but generally with the donors' willing participation (see Dirty Pretty Things, above).
- The urban legend also fails on two facts that would make this implausible at best. First off, the stolen organ has to match sizes and be compatible to the donor, something you can't control with a randomly picked victim. Second, the large loss of blood from removing a kidney would make death of the victim a much more likely outcome. Another problem with this legend, though less a medical than a practical one, is that it would be much simpler to outright kill the victim and remove all their organs. They would then be unable to bear witness to the police, especially if their now much lighter body was disposed of permanently... And how do you even get enough ice cubes into a hotel room to fill a bathtub without drawing attention to yourself? Furthermore, the typical kidney theft urban legend is highly unlikely because motel rooms (or wherever the theft takes place) lack the sterility to conduct surgery. Although that doesn't necessarily make much difference, as any back-alley "plastic surgeon" worth the title can tell you.
- There has been documented kidney theft among various poor people in India, who were then paid afterwards with "hush money" or threatened with death (Indian Victims Relate Horror of Kidney Theft - ABC News).
- Chinese government
- They are believed to harvest organs from prisoners executed in the colorfully named "death vans" that provide capital punishment services to outlying regions.
- The Chinese government also executes Falun Gong prisoners (who are detained without trial) whenever wealthy foreign tourists place a demand for an organ transplant.
- All this could never be factually proven by anybody, although some time ago the government issued a statement that "they didn't perform that practice anymore."
- There is an urban legend that if a registered organ donor's life is ever in jeopardy, then they will be murdered by doctors through substandard medical treatment, except doctors in the United States don't check donor status until an individual has been declared dead. Furthermore, the doctors treating the living and the transplant teams work independently from one another. And where are all the medical malpractice lawsuits alleging this urban legend? If it were true, then litigation lawyers would have fortunes to make.
The usual variant goes thus: "If you have to go the ER, the doctors will not try as hard to save you if you are a donor. They don't consciously choose to do it, they just do." Aside from being an insult to doctors, it always fails to explain just how would the doctors treating you know that you are a donor. (And if you say, "By your driver's license or ID, of course!"—remember, they don't actually see that.)
- This is also said of doctors treating patients in persistent vegetative states, which is probably similarly untrue; there have been cases where doctors have put pressure on relatives of someone in that condition to discontinue treatment, occasionally to the point of asking for a court order, but that's only done when the patient's chances of recovery are nonexistent and they are to all intents and purposes dead. This stems from the fact that those in permanent vegetative states make very practical organ donors, as the organs can be harvested in a very controlled setting rather than relying on the chance of an otherwise healthy organ donor dying. While no ethical doctor would pressure a family to end the life of a loved one simply for the organs, no ethical doctor would let someone in such a state die without bringing up organ donation, given that literally dozens of lives may depend on it.
- The above notwithstanding, there have been some cases of supposedly brain dead patients waking up right before their organs were to be removed.
- There is a story of an American missionary who went down to Nicaragua once, only to be confronted with rumors of him trying to kill children and harvest their organs. Locals responded by beating him into a persistent vegetative state.
- The Israeli military was recently accused of killing Palestinian prisoners for their organs. Regardless of the accusation's validity, the Israeli military did admit to taking corneas, arteries and other tissue from dead Palestinians. This is not the same as executing prisoners for their organs, and the practice was discontinued over ten years ago. Dead Israelis were also "harvested."
- Israel has a chronic problem with a shortage of organs, as for whatever reason Israelis have a surprisingly low rate of organ donation (8% of Israelis are registered donors, while in most Western countries the level's closer to 35%). It's not entirely clear why. Unfortunately, people who don't like Israel or Jewish people have played this up when given the chance, and still more unfortunately, a small number of Jewish people have given them ammunition, by engaging in organ trafficking (which is to say, taking legitimately donated organs and then selling them rather than providing them free of charge) to Israel. The most famous incident is probably the 2009 bust of a ring in New Jersey which included five rabbis, three mayors, the Deputy Mayor of Jersey City, and two NJ State Assemblymen. Naturally, when this ring was exposed, many portrayed it as stealing kidneys, when in fact what they did, while reprehensible and illegal, was not nearly as bad as that.note
- There have been allegations of the Kosovo Liberation Army murdering prisoners and murders occurring along the US-Mexico border for the purpose of organ theft. However, there has been no evidence to support either allegation.
- However, in case of the organ trafficking in Kosovo, the Dick Marty report has been endorsed by the Council of Europe and the EULEX and there's a lot of evidence to back it up. It should also be noted that Albanian authorities have denied any cooperation.
- In some countries, organ-harvesting is practiced under a policy of presumed consent, meaning that a deceased person's recoverable organs will be salvaged unless their survivors object and/or there's documentation saying that they didn't want it done. It's not "theft" because it's perfectly legal, but it can look like this to people from countries where lack of consent is the default assumption.
- Not strictly an organ but back before they could synthesise erythropoietin, East Germany would allegedly kill people to harvest their natural EPO and feed it to athletes. This is probably just another urban legend, as you could get exactly the same performance advantage by blood-doping with ordinary donor blood and/or by sending your athletes for a few months of high altitude training. Plus, erythropoietin from most other mammals is identical to that of humans, so they could get it more cheaply from sheep.
Please take a moment to fill out your organ donor cards.