Squid Game

published on
October 1, 2021
Television Review

DLH Review

We in the national organ donation community know that when a donor gives the gift of life to a waiting recipient, that gift transcends race, gender or culture. In the new hit show Squid Game on Netflix we see that Hollywood Myths about donation also transcend borders.

Squid Game repurposes Hollywood Myths to move forward a plot line.

The show overall is extremely engaging and suspenseful. The organ donation subplot is a repeat of black market myths that have been created by the entertainment industry and have no bearing on reality.

Squid Game has become an international phenomenon because the show:

  • Explores how far people will go to survive
  • Crafts clear motivations for why each character wants the to play the game, often because the money will help their family
  • Expertly creates suspense, you don’t know what’s going to happen next and each game is even more shocking than the last

Squid Game includes a black market for organs storyline:

  • It is an additional evil act in the show, but not the main storyline
  • It is integrated in as a sub-plot and used as a narrative device
  • One of the contestants is a doctor and he is getting information about what game is next
  • To get this information the doctor removes organs from almost-dead contestants in a scheme organized by a handful of the Guards
  • Selling the organs to an undisclosed “buyer” is a side hustle for these Guards to make additional money
  • The doctor and Guards are executed for the side hustle, showing a consequence for illegal and unsanctioned actions
  • The Squid Game front man punishes guards for tampering with the fairness of the game, not for illegally and immorally removing organs

Squid Game plays into Three Top Hollywood Myths about donation:

Hollywood Myth #1: My organs are worth more than saving my life

In Squid Game: The almost-dead contestants are marked for organ removal.

The Truth: All donors have to be in a hospital, on a ventilator and have stabilized blood pressure. These are the top three things that are also done to save your life. If a patient cardiac arrests outside of the operating room they are unable to be an organ donor, ever.

Hollywood Myth #2: My body will be disfigured

In Squid Game: There are gruesome scenes of bodies with organs and eyes fully removed.

The Truth: Donors are treated with respect and a full organ, eye and tissue donor, helping and saving up to 58 people, can have an open casket. No one gets a full eye transplant. Full eyes are never removed from a donor, only the cornea. This looks like a removed contact lens.

Hollywood Myth #3: There is an active Black Market for organs.

In Squid Game: The sub-plot is a textbook Hollywood portrayal of buying/selling organs.

The Truth: For the Squid Game storyline to work the Guards and/or their co-conspirators would need to:

  • Have advanced and extensive medical information about each of the contestants
  • Have advanced and extensive medical information about each of the organ buyer
  • Match a contestant with a recipient ahead of time using the medical information including height, weight, blood type and antigens (genetic code)
  • Target specific contestants who are a match for their organ buyer
  • Be involved in who gets targeted to become a contestant to assure that there are matches for their organ buyer
  • Kill the targeted contestants in a way that they don’t cardiac arrest immediately
  • Have cold storage (ice or slush solution) for the organs, not just plastic bags. Get hearts and lungs to the recipient within 4-6 hours
  • Establish a network of complicit transplant centers and surgeons willing to break the law to work with organ buyers. The centers and surgeons would also need access to the medical information listed above.

Matching organs between donor and recipient is extremely technical and difficult to do, which is one of the reasons why there is not an active black market for stolen organs. For the Guards to pull this off they would need to develop a vast infrastructure to match contestants to a paying recipient, a system that is clearly not in place.

Also note that there is not a shortage of corneas worldwide so there would be no reason to steal eyes. More people can be cornea donors than organ donors, so there are more available, and cornea can be preserved longer and travel farther than organs.

If you are a writer considering a black market/stolen kidney storyline, talk to us first! There are many other ways you can advance your narrative without perpetuating harmful Hollywood Myths.