It is a practice that is normally associated with the most poverty-stricken regions of the world, but the sale of body parts is also taking place in one of Asia's richest and most dynamic economies. This illustrates the desperation of those facing economic ruin in a country with a minimal social welfare system. For the past few months, 32-year old Park Hee-jin (not her real name) has been trying to buy a kidney from a healthy and willing living donor in South Korea. The kidney is destined for Ms Park's mother, who is suffering from kidney failure. Her mother gets regular blood transfusions, suffers severe pain and has problems passing bodily waste. She is on a waiting list for a transplant, but there is no saying when an appropriate kidney might become available - legally. Buying and selling human organs is illegal in South Korea. And Ms Park is a doctor. She also graduated from the Harvard School of Public Health, where she discussed the morality of buying body parts during a class in medical ethics. 'At the time, it was just theory. Everyone in the class was opposed to the idea of selling organs, including me, but this is the reality now,' she says, with a hint of desperation. The search for a donor began after Ms Park and her siblings proved to be unsuitable transplant matches for their mother. The family got lucky a few weeks ago when, through a broker, they were put in touch with a young man who agreed to sell one of his kidneys for thousands of US dollars. In the past, those willing to sell internal organs were often drawn from the ranks of the homeless and the destitute. But now the unemployed, as well as people facing massive debts or bankruptcy, are considering the previously unthinkable. The huge lump sums on offer for organs seem to offer the only escape route from a future of desperation. Media reports about these illegal sales flare up in times of economic hardship. During the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, adverts could be found in public toilets offering to buy organs for transplant. More recently, scammers persuaded people to hand over money for medical check-ups after agreeing to sell an organ. The crooks lured them with offers to pay between US$40,000 and US$60,000 for a kidney or other internal organ - then disappeared with the up-front cash. For Ms Park, the search for a suitable donor might be over, but success is still not guaranteed. The young man selling his kidney must pass psychological tests and convince doctors that he is making the donation for altruistic reasons. Beyond this, Ms Park is wracked by guilt about her role in the affair, but says: 'It is my mother we are talking about. What else can I do?'