New Jersey and corruption go hand in hand. So no one was particularly caught by surprise when an FBI sting operation last week netted several dozen public officials for various money related crimes. Even five rabbis were caught up in money laundering. But it was the alleged actions of one of them that raised some eyebrows -- he was, according to the FBI, buying and selling kidneys.
Rabbi Levy Rosenbaum is accused of taking part in a worldwide scheme that would buy kidneys from poor people in such areas of the world as India, Africa, and Latin America, find matches for the kidneys, then sell them. And profits were huge. They would only pay the person $1,000 for the kidney, then resell it for upwards of $150,000. The operation is then performed in another country, where no questions are asked about where the kidney came from.
Selling organs is illegal in the United States. Here, if you need a kidney transplant, and you can't find a friend or relative who is a match, you have to go on the transplant waiting list. The average person waits five years for a new kidney, and many people don't make it. An estimated 10-20 people die every day waiting in vain for their new organ.
While you can't sell your kidney, you can donate it for free. There is a Web site called MatchingDonors.com, where you can register to give a kidney away to a total stranger. While giving away a kidney to someone you don't even know is certainly admirable, it does beg the question: If it's okay to give my kidney away, why is it so wrong to sell it?
One can make the argument that a person owns their organs. They should be able to do anything they want with them. And if someone wants to treat them as a commodity available to the highest bidder, why shouldn't they be allowed to? If you are struggling to put food on your family's table, and some rich person needs your kidney, why should you just give it to them? That person could give you enough to feed the family, and then some. Our country was built on the idea of freedom. Shouldn't we have freedom over our own organs?
Allowing people to sell their organs would also eliminate the black market, making the entire enterprise much more safe.
On the flip side, of course, is the potential for exploitation of the poor. People might be tempted to sell a kidney for the right price when money gets tight, but what next when that money is gone? And getting a transplant will become a rich man's game. Need a kidney? Just get out the checkbook. The poor and middle class will be stuck on the waiting list, hoping they don't die before a free kidney becomes available.
Putting aide all of the medical ethics questions, one goes down a slippery slope when taking on this issue. Are our organs a gift from God that enables us to survive this life, or are they a gift from God that allows us to make a few bucks?