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?