An Israeli organ trafficking ring which was smashed in South Africa last year has shifted its operations to China, according to a report in the New York Times. A 52-year-old Tel Aviv man, Ilan Peri, is alleged to have organised at least 100 kidney transplants for Israelis. The Times profiled the case of an American woman from Brooklyn and a Brazilian man from the impoverished city of Recife in Durban. She paid brokers US$60,000 (a special discount because of family ties) and he received $6,000 from them. The operation was performed at St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban. This is owned by a private health care chain, Netcare, which boasts that it aims “to uphold South Africa’s reputation as ‘the transplant capital of the world'”.
Organ donation rates in Israel are amongst the lowest in the developed world, partly because of a belief that Jewish religious law forbids it. To relieve the resulting organ shortage, brokers search for donors overseas for prices which can soar as high as US$150,000. Some advertise openly on radio stations for donors and recipients. There is no law in Israel against organ trafficking and government policy effectively encourages it by allowing Israelis who go abroad for transplants to be reimbursed as much as $80,000.
In Recife selling kidneys was becoming a popular way of making quick money before police stepped in. At first the brokers offered $10,000 for a kidney, but after 18 months the price dropped as low as $3,000. About 100 men volunteered and 60 ended up making the trip to South Africa. Some of those who spoke to the Times later had health problems; one was robbed of his money on his way back home and arrived both broke and kidney-less.
Dr Nancy Scheper-Hughes, of the University of California at Berkeley, a researcher in international organ trafficking, says that organ trafficking happens in the US as well, with many larger clinics advertising on the internet for “transplant tourists”.
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