If you’ve recently come upon hard times and recycling bottles and cans isn’t quite cutting it, you’re probably eyeing that lucrative organ black market and wondering, Do I really need two kidneys? How about both lungs? Is it possible to live without my stomach — or just a portion of it?
So without further ado, here’s a list of all the internal organs you can get rid of and still chug along (somewhat) normally.
A kidney: As you’re probably aware, humans have two kidneys, but need only one to survive. In fact, some people may be born with just one kidney, or have one removed after injury or for a donation. In general, people with one kidney have few or no health problems and have a normal life expectancy, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Technically, people can even live with no kidneys, but that requires dialysis, and so it doesn’t count as part of this (already admittedly silly) list.
Spleen: The spleen filters blood and helps the body fight infections, but it’s not essential for survival and can be removed if, for instance, it’s damaged. That said, people without a spleen are more prone to infections, so don’t ditch it unless you really need to.
Reproductive organs: You may not want to live without them, but you can: Some men might need their testicles removed as part of treatment for testicular cancer, but will live an otherwise normal life. Women, too, are able to survive losing their reproductive organs. A hysterectomy may be part of treatment for cancer, uterine fibroids or chronic pelvic pain. Around a third of women in the U.S., in fact, will have had the procedure by age 60, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Stomach: The whole stomach is sometimes removed as a treatment for stomach cancer in a procedure called a total gastrectomy. In this procedure, the small intestine is connected to the oesophagus, so that everything you ingest moves directly into your small intestine. People who’ve had a total gastrectomy have to receive nutrition through a vein for a few weeks while they recover, but after that, they’re able to eat most foods. They may, however, need to eat smaller meals and take dietary supplements if they have problems absorbing vitamins, according to the National Health Service of England.
Colon: People may have their colon removed as a way to treat/prevent colon cancer, or treat Crohn’s disease. While you can live without a colon, you may need to wear a bag on the outside of your body to collect stool. The Mayo Clinic says that this can sometimes be avoided thanks to a surgical procedure where a reservoir is created in the small intestine, which is then joined to the anal canal — this takes the place of the colon and makes the bag unnecessary.
Appendix: The appendix — the most famous of the so-called “useless” organs — is a small, tube-shaped organ that juts out from the first part of the large intestine. It’s unclear what its function is, though some recent research suggests the appendix is a place where beneficial bacteria can live safely until they’re needed.
Still, it can be removed if it becomes inflamed or ruptures: Appendicitis as it’s called, occurs when the appendix becomes blocked — sometimes by stool, a foreign body or cancer, but more commonly from infection, since the appendix can swell in response to any infection in the body. Since abscessed appendix can perforate or explode, almost all cases of appendicitis are treated as emergencies, requiring surgery.
Gallbladder: If you have really bad gallstones — pieces of solid material that form in the gallbladder — or gallbladder dysfunction, a surgeon can take out this bile-storing pouch in an operation called a cholecystectomy. “Most people don’t notice anything, and there is no real change in digestion [after having the gallbladder removed],” says William Brugge, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. But, he says, “a percentage of people have complications” after gallbladder removal surgery — mainly digestive issues such as difficulty processing fatty foods or chronic diarrhoea.
In the end, though, it is your body. So best of luck with the harvest. Just one thing to consider before you begin: Since most of these organs aren’t required to live, chances are the only thing you’ll get any money for is your spare kidney.
Maybe the bottles and cans were a better bet after all.