Tag Archives: organ donation

‘Kidney pirates,’ organized crime and health care

In a recent episode of HDNet’s Dan Rather reports, the journalist criss-crossed the globe alongside an academic/activist and others trying to trace the international black market for human kidneys (PDF transcript).

Rather and his crew pieced together the path a kidney would have taken, all the way from a tiny, desperate Moldovan village (where furious villagers once attempted to lynch the woman who’d lured about 40 young men to Turkey with promises of work, then sent them home minus a kidney) to brokers like Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, the New Yorker arrested for his alleged role in matching live donors to ailing patients.

While hard numbers are difficult to pin down in the ‘kidney pirate’ universe, Rather says black-market transplants like these are a growing problem, citing anecdotal evidence and a 2005 WHO report that found that a tenth of kidney transplants were arranged through the black market. Another reason for the black-market organ boom, Rather finds, is the emergence of new anti-rejection drugs that make it possible for almost anyone to give a kidney to anyone else.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

With more than 83,000 people waiting for kidneys in the United States alone, the potential benefit to patients is evident (though far from guaranteed, as Rather makes clear in the second half of the piece). The benefit to the donors is much more questionable.

While buyers spend up to $200,000 for a kidney, most of the money goes to a web of middlemen. Everyone from brokers to rogue surgeons, to bribed police and corrupt customs and border officials… all the average seller gets out of the deal, if he’s lucky, is about $3,000… and a tell-tale scar.”

For more on the price paid by the donors, Rather talked to well-known University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., who advocates criminal penalties for doctors who turn a blind eye to donors with dubious backgrounds as long as it saves their patient’s life.

If you say you are going to sell a kidney, coming from a poor village or a poor nation, nobody looks out for your health or your interest once that kidney’s out of your body. They toss you aside like an old piece of Kleenex. They don’t care. So you’re getting infections, you’re getting bleeds. You’ve got all kinds of problems going on, it’d be pretty easy to manage if you were getting followed post donation in an American or European hospital or in a developed country. You go back as a poor person who has sold their kidney, you’re in trouble.

The web of organized criminals matching donor to patient often centers in Istanbul, an international hub for illicit donations. The Turkish organ donation racket was pioneered by Yusuf Sonmez, a talented surgeon with questionable ethics and a knack for avoiding punishment. Somnez has recently been driven out of Turkey, but word on the street is that he’s still operating with impunity out of Azerbaijan.

There are signs in Istanbul that police are finally cracking down. … Turkish police rounded up more than 40 alleged kidney traffickers, but authorities here are still fighting an uphill battle against an insatiable global demand for kidneys. And it’s not just Turkish doctors. Rather even cites a recent incident in which a donor and patient hooked up through Craigslist, went to a Los Angeles hospital for the transplant, and apparently exchanged $25,000 in a restroom or hallway after the operation.

In the course of the story, Rather also visits Israel, another organ trafficking hotbed, and examines the toll the trade is taking up on patients as well as donors.


Addressing the growing demand for kidneys

Josephine Marcotty of the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently wrote a series addressing the increasing demand for kidneys, a need spurred by an aging population, increases in diabetes, obesity and high-blood pressure. KidneyShe found that it is a public health crisis that costs the nation $33.6 billion a year, and there is no end in sight.

Marcotty covered one woman’s search for a kidney, the ethics of paired donations and how the medical center decided who would get organs.

In this article for AHCJ members, she shares what she learned about kidney donation and how she reported the story.

KQED profiles those who live with disease, injury

This month’s edition of Health Dialogues, part of KQED’s California Report, focuses on living with disease. In the report, KQED reporters talk to folks living with chronic disease, the effects of traumatic injury and other conditions that can have lasting effects on a person’s quality of life.

“Healed?” By swingnut via Flickr.

To provide insight into the life and routine of someone coping with chronic disease, reporters profile a music programmer ‘coping’ with diabetes, an activist who stumbled upon a forgotten childhood diagnosis of hepatitis B and a cellist with multiple sclerosis. They also talk to a couple dealing with cancer and two sisters on opposite ends of an organ donation chain.

In addition to cancer and disease, KQED reporters also explore how the lasting effects of traumatic injury can shape your life. Pieces include a KPBS reporter talking about his own traumatic brain injury and the story of a surfing-based physical therapy program for veterans.

Man claims he sold kidney for $20,000

Associated Press reporters Carla K. Johnson and Adam Goldman report on a man who says he was paid $20,000 for his kidney.

The reporters write that much of his story can be confirmed. The man who received his kidney calls the alleged $20,000 payment “an embellishment.” Nick Rosen, the man who gave up his kidney, made a video that shows him on a bed with what he says is $20,000.

Johnson and Goldman tell the tale while also looking at some of the larger issues of selling organs and the screening that transplant centers do.


Organ network looks to address regional disparities

American Medical News‘ Kevin O’Reilly writes that, spurred on by attention paid to Apple boss Steve Jobs’ trip to Tennessee to take advantage of shorter liver transplant waiting lists, the United Network for Organ Sharing (which has a government contract to run the country’s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network) will meet in the spring of 2010 to address socioeconomic and regional variations in access to donated organs (see a graph of regional waiting list sizes here).

Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr

Jobs did not break any rules, experts say, but he did use his resources to take advantage of an imperfect system. One of the biggest problems? Multiple listings, in which one wealthy patient hops on waiting lists across the country and plays the odds to get the fastest-possible transplant. In what may be an obstacle to reform, some argue that multiple listing is a reasonable practice used by rich and poor alike. Additionally, others say that regional differences in transplant wait times reflect more than just differences in access to health care; they also reflect the high cost of transporting live organs and differing regional success rates in encouraging new donors and standards for harvesting organs.