Can you get paid for donating an organ?
In practice, you can. All over the world, people are being paid for their kidneys. But what about the United States? Under U.S. law, can you demand compensation for such a gift?
Richard Batista of Long Island, N.Y., thinks he can. He's suing his ex-wife for $1.5 million, citing, among other things, the kidney he gave her eight years ago. He says she rewarded his life-saving generosity by having an affair, divorcing him, and keeping their children away from him.
Medical ethicists agreed that the case is a nonstarter. Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics said the likelihood of Batista getting either his kidney or cash was "somewhere between impossible and completely impossible." Robert Veatch, a medical ethicist at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics, noted that "it's illegal for an organ to be exchanged for anything of value."
I'm not so sure. Batista can't take his kidney back, but that's not what he's after. He wants his ex-wife to let him visit their kids, on pain of compensating him for what he gave her. And what he gave her, according to his attorney, wasn't just an organ but a livelihood. According to Newsday, the attorney says the $1.5 million demand "reflects damages, including how much money she made as a result of being able to continue working and not having to go on dialysis." So the dollar figure isn't based on the price of an organ (which would be considerably cheaper, based on the going rate of kidneys abroad); it's based on the income one spouse accrued thanks to the other's sacrifice. And sacrifices between spouses are treated differently, under the law, from sacrifices between strangers or friends. There's a tradition and expectation of common benefit. You and your spouse become one flesh—in this case, literally.
I'm sure some of you clever lawyers can figure out how to position this claim as an extension of those divorce cases where the wife gets compensated for devoting herself to her husband's executive career. "It's not the organ itself we're asking you to value. It's the financial benefit the defendant gained thanks to the risk, the pain, and the extensive, invasive medical procedures this good man, this loving husband, endured. Yes, it was a gift of love—but no less a gift of love than the other sacrifices so many spouses make for each other's careers. Let it be acknowledged in the same way."
I'm tearing up already. Will it work? I wouldn't be a kidney on it. But it's worth a try.Filed under: organs, commodification
N.Y. Doctor Demands Wife Give Back Donated Kidney
Dr. Richard Batista Claims Wife Dawnell Had An Affair;
He Wants Organ Returned Or $1.5 Million In Compensation
MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (CBS) ―
The doctor, who is now involved in a messy divorce, has hired a high profile lawyer.
"As part of the litigation, we are asking for the value of the kidney that he gave his wife," attorney Dominic Barbara said. "In theory we actually asked for the return of the kidney."
Richard Batista, a Cornell graduate, is a prominent Long Island vascular surgeon, father of three and married to a nurse. But when his wife, Dawnell, went into renal failure in 2001, Batista stepped up.
"She was my wife. My priority was to save her life, save her life and future of our children and hopefully with that in mind keep the marriage alive," Dr. Batista said.
Batista said he was one of only 700,000 whose kidney was a match.
"When I donated … the next day on my feet going down hallway to visit her in adjoining room, there was no greater feeling on this planet as God is my witness, felt I could put my arm around Jesus Christ," Batista said. "[It was] unbelievable. I was walking on a cloud. I did the right thing for her to this day. I could still do it again."
Now that story of risk and sacrifice has taken on a sensational twist, with the doctor demanding his kidney back or $1.5 million in compensation after he claims his wife had an affair and sent him packing from their million dollar Massapequa home.
"There is no deeper pain you can ever express than betrayal from someone who you loved and devoted your whole life to," Batista said.
The doctor works at Nassau University Medical Center, and claims he's suing for the kidney because his wife is denying him contact with their children, and is shutting him out of their lives.
"I saved her life," Batista said. "This divorce is killing me."
So far wife Dawnell Batista has not publicly commented, her attorney said. Doctors CBS station WCBS-TV in New York City spoke with said such an operation is unethical and nearly impossible.
Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics reports it's illegal for an organ to be exchanged for anything of value. Organs in the United States may not be bought or sold.
Donating an organ is considered a gift.
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