A report Sunday in the New York Times sheds light on the role of Israelis in international organ trafficking. Through the story of Ophira Dorin, a 36-year-old Israeli woman, the report demonstrates how easy it is to illegally buy a kidney in Israel.
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Costa Rican authorities announced last year that they had uncovered an international organ trafficking ring that specialized in selling kidneys to Israeli and eastern European patients. The Times said it was able to identify 11 patients – six of them Israelis – who underwent kidney transplants in San Jose, as well as two other Israelis who arrived to the Costa Rican capital with donors for procedures they said would not have been approved back home. The report puts Dr. Francisco Mora Palma, head of nephrology at the large Calderon Guardia Hospital in San Jose, at the center of the operation in Costa Rica.
By following Doris' story, the Times identified three Israelis it said were involved in the trafficking case - Avigad Sandler, Boris Volfman and Yaacov Dayan - describing them as being "among the central operators in Israel’s irrepressible underground kidney market."
Doris was originally referred to Sandler, but later changed to Volfman after she was told he could arrange transplants at a lower price. A day after their meeting, Volfman was arrested along with Sandler and others on suspicion of organ trafficking in an unrelated case. Soon after, Dorin was referred by one of her clients to Dayan.
When confronted by the Times reporter to explain his involvement in the case, Dayan said, "We help people," but refused to elaborate, only adding that he had been out of business for over 18 months at the time.
In a phone interview with the Times, Volfman described himself as a middleman who accompanied patients abroad to organize them accommodation, contacts and medical examinations. He insisted on never having any contact with the organ donors themselves and that it was up to the patients to choose the transplant center and pay them directly.
The story says Dorin wired money to the hospital in San Jose and to Dr. Mora, who then paid some $18,500 to an unemployed 37-year-old man for his kidney. This case is merely one of thousands of illicit transplants that take place around the world each year, experts cited in the report estimate.
Dorin told the Times that she even if what she was doing was illegal, after five years with a kidney disease, she felt she had no choice.
The Times attributes the "disproportionate role" of Israelis involved in major organ trafficking cases partially to Jewish religious restrictions, which keep donation rates low in Israel.
According to the Israeli Health Ministry, less than 10 percent of the overall population in Israel is registered as organ donors – among the lowest rate among developed countries. The ministry reported an increase in registration after the Knesset passed a law in 2012 granting registered donors priority if they ever need a transplant. Also, in 2010, living donors began receiving compensation of several thousand shekels, which may have contributed to the increase. The compensation is meant to cover lost wages and related expenses.