Illegal Organ Trafficking

Friday, July 24, 2009

Along with the various public officials and religious leaders arrested yesterday, 58 year old Levy Izhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn was charged with trying to arrange a kidney donation for $160,000. Anthropologist Nancy Scheper- Hughes has investigated the illegal organ racket for almost a decade. She talks about how she blew the whistle on Brooklyn's organ bazaar.


Nancy Scheper- Hughes

Comments [59]

schallb from wisconsin

Ten years ...Ten years...she first now is calling this to the publics attention after investicating it for Ten years... Shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jul. 29 2009 09:01 PM
Mark Ferraro from California

If you live in a state that has adopted the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, it is presumed that you are an organ donor until they can find evidence of a contrary position. This includes hooking you up to life support systems even if you have an Advanced Healthcare Directive that says otherwise. They can keep your body alive until they can talk to your family to find out what your true intentions were.

Under this new Act, you have the right to refuse to participate in an organ harvesting procedure, but you must register your desire with a known organ registry. There is only one organ registry in operation that allows you to record your preferences, including allowing for the contingency that just compensation might become legal at some future date.

Check out to learn more about your rights under the law.

Jul. 27 2009 03:49 PM
sbl from fmr mt sinai transplant employee, nyc

To KB from Manhattan: She was talking about Albert Einstein in Philadelphia, which she stated clearly in the interview.

Jul. 26 2009 02:57 PM
Matt from UWS

Here's the link to the Daily News' related story (Friday July 24th):

Jul. 25 2009 09:47 PM
gaetano catelli from manhattan

not to worry, Eric from Jersey City, et al. by labeling this organization as "the Mafia" and its ringleader as "the Don", Nancy Scheper-Hughes put the blame for this affair on the ethnicity that is really responsible for it.

Jul. 25 2009 08:32 PM
KB from Manhattan

I don't think they do transplants at " Albert Einstein" or the Jack D Weiler Hospital as it's now known. All kidney transplants done in the Bronx would be done at Montefiore Medical Center, a seperate institution from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. As far as I know, no transplants are done at Weiler/Einstein, only Montefiore.

If the guest is incorrect on such a key point, I would like to see Brian follow up.

Jul. 25 2009 05:14 PM
Nathan from Hoboken, NJ

If you think about the workings of Israeli society it is not surprising people would abuse newcomers from the FSU. They are almost viewed as less than in Israeli society and blamed for a lot of internal ills.

But in the end I do not think this has anything to do with Jews or Jewishness or even Israelis. It has to do with a bunch of people who were very unethical and took advantage of a situation. This happens every day all around us and we ourselves do it - none of us Jew or gentile are immune to breaches in ethics.

What is really a shame is that Rabbi's, those who are supposed to be more ethical than the norm, are involved. But, again, how is this any different when compared to the Catholic sex abuse scandals?

It isn't, Catholics are not all perverts just like Jews are not all crooks.

Jul. 25 2009 11:46 AM
sbl from fmr mt sinai transplant employee, nyc

I'm a former employee of the Mt Sinai transplant center and I left because the management and administration was corrupt. UNOS has already been called to investigate improper allocation of cadaveric organs twice in the past few years. Many surgeons left once investigations began, some going back to their home countries, others to bordering states' transplant programs. Mt Sinai was on probation for a long time with Unos for "mis-categorizing" patients as "status 1", meaning the patient was immediately placed at the top of the transplant list as urgent life or death cases, even though the patients didn't meet the established criteria. These patients were usually VIP, or the same nationality as the transplant director. Sinai was still on probation and under investigatiobn when I left.

Jul. 25 2009 11:29 AM
Richard Johnston from Upper West Side

"What about selling blood??? Isn't that considered as a first step to donating an organ?"

Blood regenerates, hon'. When you give up a kidney you have one to run on the rest of your life. Lots of rationalization going on here.

Jul. 24 2009 07:51 PM
uos from queens

There's something wrong with Doreen.

Jul. 24 2009 04:50 PM
Ewunia from New Jersey

bruce from midtown, nyc:

Regarding Comment No. 1, YOU ARE CORRECT, and I'm glad you brought up WNYC's obvious bias for not calling the kettle black with RABBIS, instead listing them as "religious leaders." You beat me to it. Thanks.

I only caught part of Hennelly's report earlier. His report is part of this story, and I thought I detected pro-Israeli/rabbinical bias during that segment too. I will be checking and will comment at that segment of the show if necessary.

Why are the rabbis all listed last in the perpetrators list for that segment of the program? At least WNYC should have listed all perpetrators alphabetically. Mix up the arrested "religious leader" RABBIS and politicians.

Jul. 24 2009 03:28 PM
man on wireless from Brooklyn

I applaud Scheper-Hughes for having the courage and compassion to defend those who have been victimized by this ring. In equal measure, I am sickened by those who would seek to justify such exploitation.

Listeners may also be interested in the feature film "Dirty Pretty Things" which explores the underworld of organ trafficking in fascinating detail.

Jul. 24 2009 02:48 PM
bob h

My wife received a kidney transplant at Albert Einstein, Philadelphia a few years ago, and I know the transplant team there well. They are people of the highest skill, dedication, and integrity.

I simply do not believe these people would engage in widespread transplantation of kidneys obtained in this fashion. Perhaps the odd case might have occurred, but implying that they knowingly and repeatedly did this is a calumny.

Jul. 24 2009 01:44 PM
hjs from 11211

we know calls'em's game. he's the new "peter"
i've been playing this game with him for 2 weeks and i don't intimidate that easily. he wants to talk about israel but that's off topic. his party is out of power (and might be flat lining on the table) and he just can't stand it. a majority of voters elected BHO. they want to claim BHO is not an american, i and the other enlightened people in this country know it's just a smoke screen so we can't see the mess they left after bush, after the last 30 years of reaganism.

Jul. 24 2009 01:17 PM
the truth from bkny

Wow calls'em....he/she is red now b/c she/he challenges your view?

Jul. 24 2009 12:34 PM
Steven Forbis from Manhattan

Calls 'em: Bush was NOT an illegal alien.

Jul. 24 2009 12:30 PM
Steven Forbis from Manhattan

According to a couple of experts on the Lopate show a few years back, the lack of donated organs stems from doctors being too shy to ask grieving families for permission to harvest, even though the deceased signed the form on the back of the driver's license.

Doctors shouldn't ask permission from the family but rather respect the expressed wish of the donor. I gather they are afraid of lawsuits, even though the doctors would win ultimately. Perhaps waiting recipients should start suing doctors who fail to harvest, suits doctors would lose.

Jul. 24 2009 12:26 PM
Calls'em As I Sees'em from Langley, VA


My colors are red, white and blue. Yours appear to be just red. I like to be fair and support justice and the rule of law. ** The prof's attacks (and soon to be published book) are very problematic. If you were an attorney or in LE you would understand.

** That’s why I am against the Gov’t illegally strong-arming banks and taking over private business and against having an illegal alien serving, badly I might add, as President, etc.

Have a nice day.

Jul. 24 2009 12:20 PM
hjs from 11211

things that make u say hmmm

Jul. 24 2009 12:20 PM
the truth from bkny

and#27 Obama is anti Israel..really? Check your facts sir/madam.

Jul. 24 2009 12:16 PM
the truth from bkny

Why do the Jews always feel attacked? comment #27

Jul. 24 2009 12:15 PM
Calls'em As I Sees'em from Langley, VA


My colors are red, white and blue. Yours appear to be just red. I like justice. The prof's attacks (and soon to be published book) are very problematic. If you were an attorney or in LE you would understand.

Have a nice day.

Jul. 24 2009 12:14 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I was shocked to hear a caller (Doreen?) say doctors falsely rule family members not to match their relatives who need a kidney--& especially to hear her assume that family members are automatically tissue matches. Members of the same family can even have different blood types, & organs have to match more closely than blood.

And to say that it's not the government's business & there should be no rules to cover this? Does she really think there aren't any people unethical enough to trade in organs from people who aren't healthy enough to (1) donate a kidney that functions optimally in the recipient & (2) survive well w/only 1 kidney? Most people can, but they do need to be careful to limit their intake of substances (like alcohol) & exposure to environmental toxins that are eliminated via the kidney, & their dosages of many medications need to be adjusted. (I have a friend who had a kidney removed to cure her cancer, & she's told me about some of these things.)

Jul. 24 2009 12:10 PM
hjs from 11211

today we see your true colors, they seem familiar.

Jul. 24 2009 12:06 PM
Matt from UWS

Some NYC-based [Orthodox] potential speakers on organ donation in Jewish law:

Rabbi Saul Berman
Rabbi Moshe Tendler (Yeshiva University)
Rabbi Dov Linzer (YCT Rabbinical School)
Dina Naijman, Bioethicist and leader of Cong. KOE
Rabbi Norman Lamm (Yeshiva University)
Dr. Fred Rosner, Physician & Bioethicist

Jul. 24 2009 12:04 PM
Justice from Brooklyn

Thanks for doing this story, WNYC. Lots to think about here.

Jul. 24 2009 11:59 AM
the truth from bkny

*heavy sigh* Don't want to get into an argument about the jews (including the Black/Ethiopian Jews) being the "chosen people" on a Friday afternoon.

Jul. 24 2009 11:55 AM
YM from Brooklyn

Thank you Bryan and Dr. Scheper-Hughes. That was one of the most complex and engaging segments I have ever heard. I had the fortune of reading Dr. Scheper-Hughes' devastating DEATH WITHOUT WEEPING as an undergrad and am glad to become acquainted with the trajectory of her work since then. I look forward to the follow-up segment.

Jul. 24 2009 11:54 AM
Susan Gilbert from The Hastings Center, Garrison, NY

Even in countries where it is legal to buy and sell kidneys from live donors, there are negative social, psychological, and physical consequences. These were described in vivid, moving detail in an essay in the Hastings Center Report:

Jul. 24 2009 11:50 AM
Karen from NYC

Great segment. I am waiting to hear what Mt. Sinai and Albert Einstein have to say.

Jul. 24 2009 11:49 AM

I am a Jew. Our family vociferously believes that this is another reminder NOT to blame the messenger. This is a time for Jews to rise up and shout from the rooftops: be an example, if for not the world, then for ourselves. Do only good and pressure the criminals among us to either turn themselves in (like Madoff?) or repent. If we are the chosen people then it's time to remember this and take the responsibility to pressure fellow Jews to always take the high road as we are taught. Better haughty than felonious. I realize I am being controversial by revealing this family dialogue which may resonate with other Jews as well. But I am mortified by seeing the Jews in handcuffs at the same time I am trying to explain to my own children (and non-Jewish wife!) what's so special about being a Jew. I for one do not blame the messenger.

PS Myself and every Jewish person I know is an organ donor, it's part of what I consider being a Jew -- I don't care if it's "Jewish" or not.

Jul. 24 2009 11:48 AM
Matt from UWS


Jul. 24 2009 11:43 AM
Calls'em As I Sees'em from Langley, VA

This is an on-going investigation. She and WNYC are jeopardizing the investigation. This is all alleged and mostly by her. The guest has defamed many people and institutions that have not been arrested and/or even investigated. Most of her comments are "hearsay" and not real evidence. She has put Brian and WNYC into a tough situation because they are now republishers of these defamations. I wouldn’t be surprised people sued WNYC over this program.

What is the real agenda for this matter? Everyday China executes poor prisoners for organs.
Wealthy people all over the world like Apple CEO Steve Jobs get bumped up on the list all the time while other people DIE. Wealthy people "buy" organs all the time. I don't know the answer whether or not there should be a legal regulated market in such, but this goes on all over the world. I am just wondering why this case has appeared here and now, in the Obama anti-Israel anti-Jewish era. Is this just another attack on Jews and Israel?

Jul. 24 2009 11:42 AM
Lauren from Woodbury, NY

This may sound callous, but when my Dad was looking for a kidney, I made (the difficult) decision to NOT offer mine.

1) He could not stop smoking, therefore continuing body breakdown.
2) Most likely, his kidney disease was hereditary—I might need both kidneys when I hit his age.

If I had the money, I would have bought it for him (or myself if I needed it).

Jul. 24 2009 11:42 AM
artista from greenpoint

link to public radio program, cut off from my comment above

Jul. 24 2009 11:41 AM

(I studied prof. Scheper-Hughes' older work in school)

So- we could get a lot more safe donation in the US:
-Its been publicized that in european countries where organ donation is the default (sign your license to out OUT), donation rates are 85%, (as opposed to 15% here).

-There was an 8-way kidney donation done recently (Hopkins?) b/c most people would donate to a relative, but not a stranger. Having a computerized matching system as opposed to each hospital being independent would make it more efficient.

Jul. 24 2009 11:38 AM
Carolyn Campbell from East Orange, New Jersey

Being a person who has suffered from kidney cancer, I have lost a kidney. I am concerned that I will someday need to have my other kidney removed. I am living with one kidney and am a high school english teacher. It is very scary to think that the only kidney that will be available to me is one that is questionable, at best.

This controversary troubles me!!

Jul. 24 2009 11:38 AM
frank from brooklyn

Doreen, donors could get agents and jack up the price of the kidney...maybe get the guy A-Rod got. He could get 10%!!

Jul. 24 2009 11:38 AM
the truth from bkny

Donate through the proper channels people.

Jul. 24 2009 11:38 AM
mary from New York

Do you have any figures on kidney donors, paid or unpaid, who later developed kidney disease themselves?

Jul. 24 2009 11:37 AM
Alaina from Weehawken

If we were to make organ donation after death an opt-out instead of opt-in system, how much do you think that would reduce the necessity for organ sales, at least in this country?

Jul. 24 2009 11:37 AM
artista from greenpoint

this segment is excellent. thanks, brian.

the story has been repeatedly covered; i recall seeing something on teh teevee following scuzzy guys around Israeli clinics a few years back.
A cursory search brought this up:

the question of body-part sales is always about US vs the exploitable (money poor) THEM:
cf the article on even something arguably far less intrusive like surrogate motherhood--paying women to bear your babies— in last week's NYT, which passes verylightly over the arguments against the practice, and does not bother to tell us why it is ILLEGAL in , oh, New York State.
THe IDEA of sales of vital body parts is always cleaner than the reality...

Jul. 24 2009 11:37 AM
VV in chelsea from ny, ny

If we allow society to give a legal nod to an organ market, we've taken a giant step backward for Humanity.

Props to BL for mediating such an edgy subject.

Jul. 24 2009 11:37 AM
the truth from bkny

wowee wo wo..did she just explode all over Brian??? LOL I love it!

Jul. 24 2009 11:36 AM

Well, they aren't organs but women donate eggs for infertile women and make money. I mean, I don't think selling an organ for money is very ethical, but then where does egg selling fall in there?

Jul. 24 2009 11:36 AM
Seth from Upper West Side

Oooh! Think of the possibilities for a reality TV show!

This is sickening. See my earlier post. Human life is meaningless to most people in the world. Just listen to this caller.

Jul. 24 2009 11:35 AM
maya from Jersey City, NJ

I think EVERYONE should be an organ donor.. I think there's no RATIONAL REASON to NOT donate your organs.. once a person is dead the body is nothing but a lump of rapidly decomposing organic matter; and, I know this is a very radical and controversial position that probably nobody agrees with, but I think if a person dies whose organs can be used to save a life they SHOULD be used, even if the family of the person disagrees, as, again, there is no RATIONAL REASON not to; the reason families often refuse to donate the organs of loved ones are purely emotional, and NOT RATIONAL AT ALL.

I'm totally AGAINST THE SALE OF ORGANS for all the obvious reasons.

Jul. 24 2009 11:35 AM
florion from NY

What about selling blood??? Isn't that considered as a first step to donating an organ?

Jul. 24 2009 11:34 AM
David Blaustein from Live in Clinton Hill Brooklyn

Aren't sales of any organs in this country 100% illegal? I was under the impression that only donation or organs was legal. You are not mentioning any legal issues that are already in place.!

Jul. 24 2009 11:34 AM
the truth from bkny

yes and yes

Jul. 24 2009 11:32 AM
bruce from midtown nyc

What she does not get is when "Israel" or "Israelis" are breaking the law,media is reluctant to investigate.There is a knee jerk reaction that Israel is always the "victim" and never the perpetrator.
Not the real world folk!
Israelis are by far the largest Trafficker in human slavery from Eastern Europe.
Anybody Investigating??

Jul. 24 2009 11:29 AM
the truth from bkny

OMG..she's insane

Jul. 24 2009 11:29 AM
Seth from Upper West Side

Complexities? This woman is insane. Go eat some more coffee cake, hon.

Yes, let's de-value human life even more. Let the organs go to the highest bidder! Do I hear 200 grand for a liver?Going once! Going twice!!

Jul. 24 2009 11:28 AM
Celine Mavromihalis from New York New York

When we alerted authorites, UN, NGO's about organ trafficing in Bosnia, organs harvested from executed christian Serbs for their organs by muslim Bosnians, we were laughed at and ridiculled.

Jul. 24 2009 11:27 AM
Eric from Jersey City

Have the media been covering up this explosive story for fear of being accused of anti-Semitism? If true, it seems to affirm the worst medieval accusations against Jews.

Jul. 24 2009 11:26 AM
Mike from brooklyn

Brian please follow up with doctors and hospitals and hold their feet to the fire.

Jul. 24 2009 11:21 AM
the truth from bkny

yep..right...she is making too many excuses for them.

Jul. 24 2009 11:15 AM
Seth from Upper West Side

Oh no, more "men of God" doing bad things. Oh, how tragic.

Human life is meaningless to most people in the world. Organs for cash? Why is anyone surprised?

They should put these animals where they belong--in a depressing concrete cell for the rest of their miserable wasted lives.

God bless...Praise Jesus...Glory be...Blah Blah Blah

Jul. 24 2009 11:13 AM
bruce from midtown nyc

"Religious Leaders"??
If they were Catholic Priests enagaged in this bizarre trafficking of human organs,thay would be identified as "Catholic Priests" each and every time the story ran.
Why the double standard?

Jul. 24 2009 11:02 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.