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HODS on IBA News

HODS on IBA News
Robby Berman – Aug. 2010, Payment for Organs
[5 minutes  40 seconds]

TRANSCRIPTION OF VIDEO

Anchor:
Turning to Ukraine, where authorities today announced the arrests of twelve people suspected of belonging to an organ trafficking ring allegedly headed by an Israeli citizen. Speaking at a press conference in Kiev, an official from the interior ministry said that the Israeli was arrested last month on suspicion of devising a scheme to recruit organ donors from the Former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, for wealthy foreigners in need of transplants.

According to the official, the majority of those who donated organs were impoverished young women who were paid amounts ranging from $10,000 to nothing at all. The surgeries, which cost recipients up to $200,000, were performed in Kiev, Azerbaijan and Ecuador. All of the suspects have been charged with human trafficking and if convicted, face up to 15 years behind bars.

In a separate but related development, the health ministry this week began implementing a new policy of paying financial compensation to live donors of organs for transplants. The policy was originally approved as part of the
2008 organ transplant law in the Knesset.

Under the new policy, the ministry will pay up to 30,000 shekels to donors and compensation for lost work days, travel, psychological counseling, and other expenses resulting from their life-saving surgery. There has been harsh criticism of the new policy though from several human rights activists who expressed concern that people in economic need could be exploited to provide transplant organs for the more affluent.

And earlier this week, Robby Berman, the founder and director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, told Leah Zinder that he believes the new policy by the ministry of health is a step in the right direction.

–previously recorded segment—

Robby Berman:
–they’re giving people 30,000 shekels so they don’t lose money by actually donating an organ. So if they want to take taxis to and from the hospital pre-op and post-op they don’t have to pay from their own pocket. But i’m really underwhelmed by the amount of 30,000 shekels. They’re not going to – they shouldn’t be touting this as a solution to the problem. No one’s going to be stepping forward and offering to donate their kidney for 30,000 shekels. We like to slam Iran, but Iran in 1988 legalized payment for organs. No one in Iran dies of kidney failure because they allow people to buy and sell kidneys through the government and people get compensated for it.

Leah Zinder:
It should also be said – to the best of my knowledge – in the United States, it’s absolutely forbidden to pay.

Robby Berman:
Forbidden, but there is a battle waging in America. If you read the newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, people — more and more people are writing – and even academics, politicians, philosophers, economists and now even the medical establishment – there’s a growing movement to allow direct payment from the government to people to sell their organs — after death and, also living donation.

Leah Zinder:
But Robby isn’t there a real danger that people who are in economic need, will, in fact, sell their organs?

Robby Berman:
Yes there is, well, first of all, someone who is in economic need is in economic need and needs to be addressed. You can’t say, ‘we won’t let you sell your organ and we won’t give you money for food or a roof over your head or chemotherapy if you have a kid who has cancer.’ There is a slippery-slope argument to be made, I understand that, I appreciate it, but just because it’s a slippery-slope argument doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go ahead and try to implement protocol procedures that will prevent that from happening.

You can allow people to step forward and say, ‘look, we don’t want to exploit poor people so we’ll give you $50,000 but, first of all, there’s a two year cooling off period. You have to think about this for two years. We’ll give you the $50,000 spread out over ten years.’

There’s ways to get around it to make sure people aren’t exploited and they’re not running into things. Look at me, I’m not a poor person, I’m middle class. I have a price, I haven’t sold my kidney – it’s illegal – but if it was legal, I would be willing to sell my kidney for a certain price.

It’s not every person – Nick Rosen from Tel Aviv, sold his kidney – it was on CNN – he sold his kidney to a person in New York for $25,000. He had a job, he knew the risks, he said he wanted to save her life and he wanted to get compensated for the scar on his back and the month he was out of work and he wanted to get money for it and I don’t see anything wrong with getting money.

Firemen get money to run into buildings and risk their lives and no one says, ‘the firemen didn’t have pure motives, he’s doing a terrible thing.’

Leah Zinder:
It also must be said, of course, there are 600 people in Israel waiting for organ transplants, is that correct?

Robby Berman:
Close to 1,000 people. 600 are waiting for kidneys and every year in Israel around 100 people die waiting for organs. Every year in America, 7,000 Americans die waiting for organs. We have not solved this problem. We’ve been trying, I started Halachic Organ Donor Society about ten years ago and I’ve gotten over 200 rabbis to come out and say organ donation is permitted by Jewish law, we have an obligation to help save lives and we – although we’ve had a positive impact – we have not solved the problem. When, God- forbid, someone in your family or my family needs a kidney, and they’re dying – you know people who are on dialysis they die within about 7 years because of an infection, give or take – some people longer some people shorter – but, by and large, it’s 7 years. We have not solved the problem and giving financial incentives is one step in the right direction in helping save people’s lives and that’s what it’s all about.

Leah Zinder:
This must be our last question, I do understand that more and more ultra-Orthodox people are now agreeing to donate organs, is that correct?

Robby Berman:
Yes, there is more and more rabbinic support coming out, more and more Haredi, ultra-Orthodox rabbis coming out and saying we should save lives donating organs from Jews to the general population including Arabs, Muslims, Christians, whoever, because saving a life is of utmost paramount importance in Jewish Law.

Leah Zinder:
Robby Berman, thank you so much.

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