In the USA, Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum has become the first person in the country to be convicted of selling and trafficking in human organs. A New York resident, Rosenbaum pleaded guilty to illegally buying kidneys from live Israeli donors for $10,000 each, which were transplanted into three New Jersey residents, who had paid at least $120,000 for the transaction.
The case of Rosenbaum, whose sentencing is set for February 2, 2012, has brought the problem to the forefront that organ trafficking poses in the United States and around the globe. Transplant tourism started in the mid-1990s when medical researchers proved that, for organ transplants, a direct blood type match between the donor and the recipient was not needed.
Confronted with a long waiting list of patients requiring organ transplants, more Americans are ready to travel abroad to purchase a liver, a kidney or even a heart. In 1984, the United States administration imposed a ban on the purchase and sale of human organs, but not on transplant tourism, where a person travels abroad to receive a vital organ in exchange for a sum of money that covers the price of such an organ.
Over the last 10 years, the UCLA Medical Center
's emergency room has seen 33 patients with serious complications after undergoing organ transplants abroad. Gabriel Danovitch, at UCLA says, “Transplant tourism is a risky and macabre business, but this form of tourism is not a large-scale problem here. Clients come from countries with higher purchasing power where laws regulating organ transplants are stricter, such as the United States and Japan. Colombia is a leader in organ trafficking, where donors are often fatal casualties from the guerrilla war, or people who died and whose bodies were never claimed. For some Japanese and U.S. citizens it is easier to pay up to $200,000 for a liver in Colombia than to wait up to 10 years to receive an organ transplant at home.“
According to the Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group
, an organization founded to regulate and fight this practice, a very large number of patients who have purchased kidneys have developed serious infections or have died. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that thousands of people globally are not willing to wait and so engage in this practice every year without weighing the potentially fatal consequences. In recent years the United States has witnessed an increasing demand for transplant organs, but while demand for vital organs is on the increase due to the deterioration of Americans' health, the number of donors is not increasing proportionately.
Organ transplant tourism has become popular in countries such as Colombia, Egypt and the Philippines, according to the Istanbul Declaration
- an organization that is supported by doctors and researchers of countries in which transplants are performed. While several countries have outlawed the process, the vast profits for a small expense are a temptation for dishonest doctors and the criminal gangs that control the trade.