What is a kidney worth?
(Page 8 of 11)
Personal or societal definitions of "naturalness" can change, Dr. Robinson observes. They have shifted in the US for instance, regarding interracial marriage and homosexuality.Skip to next paragraph
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Revulsion aside, "If one of mine was sick, I'd do anything," even though it's illegal, Johan says, thinking of his two children. "I'd borrow lots of money. I'd even sell the farm," he says, referring to one of his favorite places in the world, a 700-acre spread that's been in his family for four generations.
It's a typical parental response - doing anything for a child. In fact, growing numbers of doctors and ethicists agree that people like Johan or Arie should be able to buy kidneys, and that people like Hernani should be able to sell them. They argue, for instance, that banning organ sales robs sellers, who are often poor, of a rare option to escape poverty. They also argue that high-minded efforts to shield the poor from themselves can be paternalistic or hypocritical. "If the rich are free to engage in dangerous sports for pleasure ... it is difficult to see why the poor, who take the lesser risk of kidney selling ... should be thought so misguided as to need saving from themselves," says Dr. Friedlaender in Israel.
But as the detectives' coffee cools, they weigh the other side, too. They wonder if rumors about "organjacking" - people being killed for their organs - might be true. Critics say the current system has already jump-started a dangerous commodification of the human body, which could turn the world's slums into reservoirs of body parts for the rich. Today, in Manila's slums, the selling of kidneys has led to sales of lungs and corneas.
As the detectives talk it through, Johan's views develop. "Life is already really cheap in our society," he says later. "People will kill each other for a firearm and a little cash." And if you start giving people money for their kidneys, "you're going to start finding a lot of dead bodies with no organs."
These kinds of gruesome scenarios are what seal Johan's opinion. The detectives get up from the table, strengthened in their resolve to break open the case.
* * *
A few weeks later, Johan adds another plank to his position. As he's eating breakfast, he tunes into an American TV news show. A reporter is interviewing a mother whose 17-year-old son, as Johan recalls, was killed in a car crash. With the mother's consent, doctors salvaged 47 organs and tissues from the boy's body - corneas, kidneys, liver, lungs, heart. "I didn't know they could get that many organs from one body," Johan thinks to himself.
The reporter asks if the mother thinks she should be paid for all the organs her son gave away freely. How could I take money for them? Johan remembers her saying. God gave each of us the body we use when we're alive. He gave it to us for free. How could we charge someone else for part of it? He calls his wife right away.
"This makes more sense to me as a Christian than anything else I've heard," he says to her.
* * *
The detectives have been toiling for months now, slowly piecing the trafficking puzzle together. But in late November they get a major break. The police team gets a call, out of the blue, from an officer at a nearby police station. The cop has two Israelis with him. One is accusing the other of stealing $18,000, and there's something about a kidney. When the detectives later question the two men, they can't believe their ears.
One man, known as S. Zohr, admits he received $18,000 for agreeing to sell his kidney. He'd actually been lying on the operating table at St. Augustine's, just moments away from surrendering his organ to an ailing Israeli man named Agania Robel, when he got spooked. Zohr jumped off the table, grabbed his clothes, and bee-lined for the airport, trying to take the $18,000 with him.