A sad story of exploitation that you just couldn't make up: a New York rabbi, Levy Rosenbaum, has allegedly been working as a black market organ broker for the last ten years, in a network that includes 5 rabbis and 3 New Jersey mayors and which appears to be centered in Israel.
This is the first documented case of human donor organ trafficking in the United States and it is getting very little media coverage. Here are some newspaper excerpts:
NY Daily News
Rosenbaum was a middleman in a “kidney mafia” that includes doctors in Israel, a worldwide network of organ hunters, and brokers who match patients and donors with doctors who do the transplants, said Nancy Schepper-Hughes, founder of Organ Watch, which investigates trafficking.NJ Star Ledger
He planned to give the donor $10,000, federal authorities said, and charged his client a handsome fee: $160,000.Daily Record
"I am what you call a matchmaker," the complaint quotes Rosenbaum as telling the undercover agent.
Had the transaction been real, federal authorities said, it would have been the most recent chapter in Rosenbaum's 10-year career as an illicit middleman. In each case, he would take a blood sample from a prospective recipient and give it to an associate at an insurance company who could analyze it at a lab without arousing suspicion. The sample would then be shipped to Israel and the necessary people paid off to find a match.
"He preyed on vulnerable people, " said assistant U.S. District Attorney Mark McCarron.
Rosenbaum would then arrange the donor's flight to New York, including obtaining a visa, authorities said. Once the donor arrived in the U.S., Rosenbaum would help fabricate a relationship between the donor and recipient -- a story both would repeat during interviews with medical professionals. The two might pretend to be business associates, for instance, or close friends from a religious congregation.
The alleged decade-long scheme, exposed this week by an FBI sting, rocked the nation's transplant industry. If true, it would be the first documented case of organ trafficking in the U.S., transplant experts said Friday.The sale of human organs is something that many bioethicists and religious groups oppose. All living donors in the United States are supposed to declare that their donation is free of any financial interest.
Scheper-Hughes said her research has uncovered hundreds of cases of illegal organ transactions brokered by and for Israelis in Israel, South Africa, Turkey and other countries, with sellers recruited from poor communities in Moldova, Brazil and elsewhere.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes gave an interview on BBC in 2008 about why she feels the sale of human solid organs is wrong.
A study published in JAMA in 2002 showed that, in India, where there are no restrictions on the sale of organs, "selling a kidney does not lead to a long-term economic benefit and may be associated with a decline in health" thus refuting the notion that organ trafficking can improve economic conditions among the poor.
One could only imagine horrific situations in which an uninsured patient suffering a heart attack were told that his hospital bill could disappear if only he sold his perfectly normal kidney...
...I'm glad that the wheels of justice are beginning to turn in this case and hope such exploitation is shut down...