How Much Is A Kidney Worth?

In 2005, Brad Gursky was going through the final stages of kidney failure. After years of intravenous dialysis treatments, it appeared that the end was nigh for the then 51 year-old. Then it got weird. In mid June, he finally received the call he was waiting for. Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York had a perfect match for him to receive a transplant, until 24 hours later when they discovered that there had been a mistake by the donor network. Their apology letter referred to it as an "unfortunate situation". It seemed that all hope was lost, so as a last ditch effort Gursky placed a newspaper ad looking for a kidney donor. Did I mention it was an Israeli newspaper?

Enter Nick Rosen. 35 year-old movie/video editor/director. Born in New York and moved to Israel as a child, he once offered to donate a kidney to a playwright friend who was actually writing a play about dialysis at the time. Nick responded to Gursky's ad by calling the phone number attached to it, and the ball never stopped rolling after that. Whirlwinds of medical tests were performed to guarantee matching status and before you could blink, Rosen was off to "visit a friend" in New York. A story was concocted that the two men were cousins, and all of the hospitals panels and screening processes were passed with flying colors. A few months after the ad was placed, Nick Rosen awoke in his hospital bed after donating his kidney to Brad Gursky. He awoke next to an envelope containing $20,000.

Black markets for human organs have existed for ages, but are usually in lesser populated, more desolate areas of the world. It's no wonder that it's a profitable market for those interested in such seedy transactions. Last year alone over 4,500 Americans died while waiting for kidneys. Perhaps donors aren't as abundant becase as Americans, we always have to pose the question "what's in it for me?". In the case of organ donation, the answer is usually little more than knowing you did a good deed. The call for some kind of compensation for donors isn't that outlandish when you consider the time lost due to testing, the procedure itself, and the healing/adjusting phase afterwards. This compensation question is one of the main reasons Rosen "donated" in this instance. The entire process was documented on video, and was even available online for quite some time. He also claims that he did it because he "knew it was right". That may be a little harder to believe if you've seen the clip of him lying on his bed, money all around him, saying "this is what $20,000 looks like".

Right or wrong status aside, it's hard to imagine that in the current state of US health care things could get much worse. However, it's looking like if you're savvy enough you can manipulate the system to look less like a black market organ deal and more like a high priced call girl. Like the song says, "ain't that America?".


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