Monday, July 27, 2009

Corruption and kidneys in New Jersey and Brooklyn

The NY Times reports on a corruption investigation resulting in 44 arrests in New Jersey and Brooklyn: In New Jersey Case, Nervous Jokes and a Cereal Box of Cash

Almost as an aside, the story reports that a broker for transplant kidneys was caught in the net:

"Another man in Brooklyn, Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, was accused of enticing vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 and then selling the organ for $160,000. Mr. Dwek pretended to be soliciting a kidney on behalf of someone and Mr. Rosenbaum said that he had been in business of buying organs for years, according to the complaint."

Part of the repugnance to the transaction seems to be the buying and selling prices. (Would we/should we feel differently if the kidneys were bought for $100,000 and sold for $115,000?)

Steve Leider points me to an Indiana Jones connection: Anthropologist's 'Dick Tracy moment' plays role in arrest of suspected kidney trafficker. (The anthropologist in question, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, writes frequently about black markets for kidneys, and apparently indentified Mr Rosenbaum some years ago, although the story doesn't suggest to me an immediate connection to the recent arrest.)

Parag Pathak points me towards Benyamin Cohen's story in Slate, following up on the Jewish connection: The arrests of rabbis who trafficked body parts uncover more complicated issues, that suggests some of the nuances of Jewish religious jurisprudence about organ donation and sales.

Trying to figure out Jewish law directly from the Bible skips a couple of centuries of subsequent interpretation. Here's what I wrote about kidney sales in a footnote of my paper Repugnance as a constraint on markets:

3 While there is no central authority on the application of Jewish law to modern concerns such as transplantation, the most authoritative opinions are contained in various “responsa” or answers to particular questions by rabbis acting as legal “deciders” (poskim), whose authority arises from the respect of their peers. The consensus on the matter of live kidney donation, for example, seems to be that live donation is allowed (since it saves lives), but it is not required (since the donor becomes wounded and takes some risk to his own life), and hence it falls into the category of things for which compensation could be offered and accepted (unlike actions that are either forbidden or required). See, for example, Eisenberg (2006), Grazi and Wolowelsky (2004), Kunin (2005), and Israeli (1997) who cite eminent modern poskim such as Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein."

"For example, Avraham (2004, p. 271–2) reports the opinion of the eminent Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that someone who sells a kidney with the intention of saving a life does a good deed “even if he would not have donated his kidney only to save life.” But he goes on to note, “[I ]n spite of all that has been said above, it seems to me that it is the community that needs soul-searching for allowing a person to reach such a depth of despair that he must sell a kidney, either because of poverty, debts, or the inability to pay for a relative’s medical expenses.”

Although mainstream Jewish authorities support organ donation, some streams of ultra-orthodox Judaism do not: here's a disturbing article brought to my attention by Miran Epstein, from Yediot: Heart recipient's father: We'll never donate organs
It goes on to note
"The father's words angered Prof. Yaacov Lavee, director of the Heart Transplantation Unit at the Sheba Medical Center. "This is outrageous," he said. "I've heard such statements from many of my candidates (for a transplant), who weren't ashamed to admit they wouldn't donate organs.
"Such statements led me to initiate the bill that prioritizes transplants for people who have signed an organ donor card. This is clearly immoral behavior," he added.
The new transplant law, which will go into effect in May, states that any person in need of a transplant and who has had an organ donor card for at least three years will be given priority on the organ transplant waiting list. "

This makes some aspects of Israeli transplant law resemble parts of Singapore's transplant law, which also gives priority for organs to those who are registered as donors. (I wrote about this near the end of an earlier post.)

Update: Sally Satel's take is in the WSJ: About That New Jersey Organ Scandal It’s not surprising when 80,000 Americans are waiting for kidneys, and a background piece from Time magazine: How Does Kidney-Trafficking Work?


long island gal said...

these kind of people should be taught a lesson since they are convincing people to give and sell what is not supposed to be. Masterminds should be caught since this does not involve one person only.

Unknown said...

In the United States, registered organ donors can get priority access to organs by joining LifeSharers.

LifeSharers members agree to donate their organs when they die, and to offer their organs first to fellow members. As the LifeSharers network expands, so do your chances of getting a transplant should you ever need one -- but only if you're a member.

LifeSharers membership is free at There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

Unknown said...

If you live in a state that has adopted the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, it is presumed that you are an organ donor unless they can find information contrary to their assumptions. Unfortunately, no state that has adopted the 2006 UAGA allows anyone register as a "no" or allows donation on condition of just compensation. Until now: your can register your desire and options under the law at

If all Americans were allowed to receive just and fair compensation for their organs, tissue and body parts, this criminal underground would be put out of business overnight. The current system puts everyone on a moral and ethical slippery slope.

To learn more about your rights under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, visit

dWj said...

You suggest that the mark-up may contribute to the repugnance; that could be, but it is surely the case that the repugnance contributes to the mark-up.

Anonymous said...

Dan Rathers press release for the Kidney Rabbi
The trial of Rabbi Levi Rosenbaum is set for 3/8/2010.

Quote by Elie Wiesel
"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented".

Dan Rather and Nancy Scheper-Hughes have taken on a story that has not been "told like it is" since a New York Daily News article came out on July 25, 2009.

Shame on the evil people exposed in this story. RAMPANT GREED (Money=God) is THE number one problem in our world today. Money is truly the root of all evil.

"Live simply, so others can simply live".

Thank you DAN RATHER