A podcast indicated that it is illegal to buy \ sell a kidney in everywhere but Iran and was labelled a 'repugnant' transaction. If an American who was critically in need of the organ went to Iran to receive a kidney, does American law provide for policing / enforcing law for an act that takes place in country XYZ?

1 Answer 1


42 USC 274e(a) says

It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation if the transfer affects interstate commerce. The preceding sentence does not apply with respect to human organ paired donation.


(3) The term “interstate commerce” has the meaning prescribed for it by section 321(b) of title 21

which says

The term “interstate commerce” means (1) commerce between any State or Territory and any place outside thereof, and (2) commerce within the District of Columbia or within any other Territory not organized with a legislative body.

Travel to Iran to obtain a kidney does not constitute an instance of interstate commerce, but the law is stated more broadly, as affecting interstate commerce (the reason for inserting that clause in the law is to relate it to a constitutional power of Congress). Which brings us to Wickard v. Filburn, where the court rules that growing wheat and feeding it to your own cattle affects interstate commerce.

The interpretation of the law has not yet been tested, to determine whether a US person traveling to another country and having an organ implanted for valuable consideration "affects" interstate commerce, so that they have violated US law.

  • interstate does not include Iran? (is Iran a "state"?)
    – gatorback
    Aug 21, 2019 at 16:57
  • 1
    In US law, "State" means the 50 US states.
    – user6726
    Aug 21, 2019 at 17:07
  • If Iran is not equal to state and it is interstate organ transport is forbidden: doesn't that imply no interstate market for organs? It would seem there is no interstate commerce to be affected?
    – gatorback
    Aug 21, 2019 at 17:54
  • The law says "affects interstate commerce", and does not require "transport". Hence Wickburn: no wheat was transported.
    – user6726
    Aug 21, 2019 at 18:02
  • Good catch. Let me try again: If organ-sales are forbidden: doesn't that imply no interstate organ-market exists? It would seem there is no interstate commerce to be affected?
    – gatorback
    Aug 21, 2019 at 18:08

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