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Rabbis and organ trafficking

Are the New Jersey–area rabbis arrested for kidney matchmaking life-savers or just plain criminals?

Brooklyn Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum was arrested for “trafficking in human body parts,” said Sally Satel in The Wall Street Journal, as part of an FBI corruption dragnet targeting 44 New Jersey–area officials and rabbis. But the bigger crime isn’t Rosenbaum’s alleged scheme to sell for $160,000 a kidney he bought from an Israeli for $10,000—it’s that dialysis-reliant Americans “desperate” for a life-saving kidney can’t legally buy one from a willing donor.

The kidney-selling rabbis probably saw it that way—as “mimicking the divine” by saving lives, said Benyamin Cohen in Slate, albeit illegally and for a tidy profit. For a variety of cultural and religious reasons, Jews don’t donate organs much: a “paltry 8 percent” of Israelis hold organ-donor cards, versus 35 percent of people in most Western nations. That leaves a big market for kidneys and other “transplant tourism.”

Still, there are good reasons that allowing people to pay for organs is “ferociously controversial,” said Larissa MacFarquhar in The New Yorker. Aside from real concerns about safety and exploiting the poor, it wouldn’t even necessarily increase the supply of U.S. transplant kidneys. In practice, most of the small number of for-sale kidneys would probably go to people who would otherwise rely on relatives, as most Americans do now.

There has to be a better solution than the status quo for the 80,000 Americans awaiting a new kidney, said Claire Suddath and Alex Altman in Time. A legal market for organs has pros and cons, but even those who find the idea “repugnant” can cheer that it would put “black-market kidney” outfits like Rabbi Rosenbaum’s out of business.

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