Online bidding for a human kidney topped $5.7 million yesterday before executives at Internet auction house eBay yanked the illegal posting.
The auction, viewed with deep skepticism by eBay executives and medical experts, was perhaps the most bizarre offering yet on an auction site better known as a clearinghouse for collectibles like Beanie Babies and Pez dispensers.
"Fully functional kidney for sale," read the posting by a seller identified only as "hchero" from Sunrise, Fla. "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."
Selling human organs is illegal in the United States, punishable by up to five years in prison or a $50,000 fine. eBay said it shut down the auction as soon as the company learned of it yesterday morning.
"We are following up with law-enforcement authorities in Florida on this," said Steve Westly, vice president of marketing. "The Net is the most likely place to get caught doing something like this because everything is public and all the data is traceable."
Nevertheless, the auction appeared to mark an uncomfortable intersection of the frenzied atmosphere of Internet bidding, a possible hoax and the desperate shortage of organ donors in the United States.
There are 42,907 patients waiting for kidney transplants in the United States, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing. The average wait exceeds three years.
But experts said both the kidney offering and the seven bids it fetched were probably hoaxes, the latest variant of a persistent urban myth about underground markets for organs.
The kidney auction was the latest in a series of unusual offerings and apparent pranks on eBay, a San Jose, Calif.-based company with 5.6 million registered users. More than 2.6 million items were auctioned yesterday on the service.
In April, a group of engineers tried to auction off their services before pulling down the posting with no explanation. EBay also banned the auctioning of guns this year after several people tried to sell weapons.