As if eBay didn't have enough to worry about with service outages and failures, it also has to contend with people trying to sell illegal items. And not just any illegal items - we're talking about body parts.
I love this stuff. I mean where else but the internet would such a situation arise? Apparently, eBay and the other auction sites are faced with a continuous stream of illegal postings. Things such as military weapons (a missile, a bazooka and a rocket launcher), born and unborn children, and human organs such as livers and kidneys.
While most of these items get some kind of news coverage, it was actually the kidneys that made the big time. It all started on August 26 when somebody going by the handle of "hchero", supposedly from Sunrise, Florida, offered one of his kidneys for a minimum price of $US25,000.
Hchero described his offer thusly: "Fully functional kidney for sale. You can choose either kidney. Buyer pays all transplant and medical costs. Of course, only one for sale, as I need the other one to live. Serious bids only."
The bidding climbed to the dizzying height of $5.6 million before eBay killed off the auction. The reason? It was illegal. Under federal law, selling one's own organs (or, for that matter, anyone else's) is punishable by up to five years in prison or a $50,000 fine.
Indulge me in a slight digression here: Doesn't that strike you as odd? Your organs are, after all, yours. Why shouldn't you be able to sell them if you wish?
This is in the same category as other victimless crimes. (I highly recommend Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, by Peter McWilliams, a remarkable book on the history and consequences of victimless crimes.) Consider the laws against suicide - you can be locked up for attempting to take your own life. What a ridiculous state of affairs! And don't get me started on the mistreatment of Dr Jack Kevorkian ... but I digress.
But even though you won't be seeing any more kidney auctions on eBay or any other US online auction house, you can expect to see many more offers for organs made on Web sites located outside the US.
At some point, some enterprising company in Russia or South America will open an online human spare parts bank. Want a corneal graft, a liver transplant or a kidney replacement? No problem, as long as you have the cash.
What will be really interesting is when the politicians get involved. Just wait, you'll find the likes of our old friends Orrin Hatch and Diane Feinstein sponsoring half-brained bills to embargo countries that allow such trading (and by the way, note that no politician to date has gotten too worked up about doing something about countries that still practice barbarities such as female circumcision - go figure).
Perhaps that's the way to get some of these neglected issues addressed ... just tie them to the internet in some manner and wham, politicians will be all over the topic. So let's see. Perhaps I should be offering the following on eBay: "For sale, gross imbalance of wealth. Bidding to open at minimum wage."
Anyway, be that as it may. The other aspect of the kidney-for-sale story was that eBay suggested it was probably a hoax. While I know that eBay is a prime location for jokes and hoaxes (I recently saw: "For sale: One small wood screw with stripped threads. No minimum bid."), I suspect that there are a lot of people who really would be willing to sell their organs and plenty of others willing to buy.
Without further ado, let me ask: what price for one cranky British columnist in good working condition? Reserve price: $US1,000,000. Bids to mailto:nwcolumn@ gibbs.com.