A 55-year-old medical doctor from Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward who was suffering from kidney disease received a kidney from a living donor in July 2010. He is suspected of having paid money to two gangsters at different times to find a man whom he could adopt so he would qualify to donate a kidney to him.

The Japan Society for Transplantation’s ethical guideline states that a living donor in principle must be a relative of a recipient. This case clearly undermines the spirit of the organ transplant guideline, which aims to make transplants available to anyone regardless of their financial status or personal connections.

The doctor was arrested June 23 on suspicion of having asked a gangster, who was also arrested, to find a kidney donor, and of having given him ¥10 million. The doctor adopted a 48-year-old man in January 2010 in an apparent attempt to receive one of his kidneys.

Because the gangster asked for an additional ¥10 million, the transplant was not carried out. But the doctor is further suspected of having paid ¥10 million to another gangster to find a new donor. The practitioner adopted a 21-year-old man in June 2010 and received a kidney from him in a transplant operation about a month later at Uwajima Tokushukai Hospital in Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture.

In an earlier scandal, it surfaced in 2006 that doctors at the hospital had used kidneys taken from kidney-cancer patients for transplants over a period of more than 10 years.

The police should conduct a thorough investigation of the latest case so they understand the entire picture. There is the possibility that gangs, squeezed out of previous revenue streams, are attempting to turn finding living donors into a new line of illicit business. There is also a rumor that organ brokers are aiming at people who are heavily indebted, usually to more than one lender.

Uwajima Tokushukai Hospital claims that it saw nothing irregular about the adoption arrangement between the recipient and the donor.

A system should be established in which an independent committee examines adoption arrangements between recipients and donors. People should also be reminded of the spirit of the Organ Transplant Law, which prohibits the selling and buying of organs.

Fueling such cases is a paucity of donors in Japan. In 2010, there were only 209 kidney transplants from brain- or heart-dead people. Every year, only about 1,000 kidney transplants take place from donors who are living relatives.

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