Medical Expert Says Surgeon's Quest for Kidney Compensation Is 'Soap Opera'

New York surgeon wants kidney back or $1.5 million from estranged wife.

January 8, 2009, 11:59 AM

Jan. 8, 2009— -- A New York surgeon's demand for the return of the kidney he donated to his now-estranged wife -- or at least $1.5 million for it -- has transplant experts wondering what he is thinking.

Richard Batista, a surgeon at Nassau University Medical Center on Long Island, says that he is seeking compensation for the kidney he donated to his wife, Dawnell, in 2001. Richard Batista says she began having an extramarital affair after the transplant.

"There's no deeper pain or betrayal from somebody you loved and devoted your whole life to," he told reporters Wednesday.

Richard Batista said he went public with his request after becoming frustrated with ongoing divorce negotiations.

Dawnell Batista filed for divorce in 2005. The couple has three children, ages 14, 11 and 8.

Her attorney Douglas Rathkopf said in a statement obtained by WABC-TV in New York, "The facts aren't as represented by Dr. Batista. We will be addressing the issues before the judge within the next few days."

A woman who answered the phone at Rathkopf's office today said he had no further comment.

Dr. David Cronin, the director of liver transplantation at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has been performing liver, kidney and pancreas transplants for more than a decade. He says a price tag cannot be placed on a human organ.

"Any efforts that have been made to sell organs, broker organs … have come up and been squashed," he said about Richard Batista's legal tactic.

Cronin likened donations from live donors to a contract in which the donor agrees to give up the organ to the recipient and expect nothing in return.

The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 says that an organ donation from a living donor is a gift and is not eligible for "valuable consideration."

Phone calls placed to both Richard and Dawnell Batista seeking comment were not immediately returned today.

Richard Batista, according to his profile with the Nassau Healthcare Corp., is a graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Cornell University Medical College.

'Just Foolish'

A representative for the National Kidney Foundation told that the foundation did not want to comment on Richard Batista's request "because it's very individualistic, and we haven't come across anything like this before."

There have been ethical questions raised about donors receiving peripheral compensations such as travel and hotel expenses, but Cronin said those circumstances have generally been accepted by the medical community.

As far as Richard Batista's getting his kidney back from his soon-to-be ex? That isn't going to happen either, according to Cronin.

"That's just foolish," he said.

But if a judge were to award the surgeon compensation for the kidney specifically and not just divorce-related damages, that could challenge the notion of organs as gifts.

Cronin likened the whole story to a soap opera, calling it an "entertainment blip."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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