Yakuza Transplants Spotlight Organ Network

While top Japanese crime figures got transplants in the U.S., some died without.

ByABC News
May 30, 2008, 4:21 PM

June 2, 2008— -- Reports of four organ transplant operations a UCLA surgeon performed on members of a Japanese crime syndicate have sparked debate among ethicists as to who should receive precious donated organs -- and whether wealthy foreigners should be allowed to "buy into" a system to which they do not contribute.

According to a Friday report in the Los Angeles Times, Ronald W. Busuttil, chief of liver and pancreas transplantation at UCLA Medical Center, provided the lifesaving operations to a powerful Japanese gang boss and three other members of a group known as the Yakuza between 2000 and 2004.

The Times report indicates that during this period organs were scarce and more than 100 people in and around Los Angeles died in each of these years as they awaited organs.

In a statement, the UCLA Health System responded that privacy laws prevent it from commenting on specific cases. Nor did the institution reveal to The Associated Press how much the Japanese paid the hospital for its transplant procedures.

Busuttil, in a statement of his own, noted that in his position as a surgeon "it is not my role to pass moral judgment on the patients who seek my care.

"If one of my patients, domestic or international, were in a situation that could be life threatening, of course I would do everything in my power to assure that they would receive proper care," he continued. "I consider that to be part of my responsibility and obligation as a physician."

And the United Network for Organ Sharing distanced itself from the cases in response to the Times article, noting that "the individual transplant center makes all decisions about evaluating and accepting transplant candidates. The [Organ Procurement and Transplantation Networks] role is organ allocation, and we are not involved in any decisions regarding an individual patient's qualification for a transplant. ... Federal law and regulation that guides the OPTN bars us from basing any allocation decisions on personal 'social worth' factors including personal history."

But some worry that the perceived inequality of the case could have a chilling effect on organ donation.