Buying organs: life-saving or inhumane?

LAHORE, Pakistan ABC7's Denise Dador has the story of a local man who traveled to Pakistan, a hotbed of Al Qaeda activity, to buy a kidney. The man, strictly called "Dave" in this story, does not want to be identified because it is illegal in the United States, and nearly every other country, to buy or sell human organs.

Pakistan is a land of stunning beauty and extreme poverty. Children beg for money and the poorest of the poor make their home on the streets.

It's in Lahore, Pakistan, where Dave found a hospital that will sell him a kidney. ABC7 gave him a home video camera to document the journey.

Inside Aadil Hospital, patients from every corner of the world wait for transplants they can't get at home.

Before leaving Los Angeles, Dave shared the reason he is going to such great lengths to survive: his 16-year-old daughter.

"I don't want her to see me on the kidney machine, dying," said Dave.

Dave spent almost six years on dialysis before his first kidney transplant back in 1986. That kidney is now failing.

The average wait time in the U.S. for a cadaver donor kidney is four to seven years. Dave can't bear the thought of going back on dialysis.

"I don't want to do it. It's torture," said Dave. "I think the hardest part was, I saw a kid come in about 8 years old. I'll never forget it. He'd be screaming when they put the needles in. It was killing me, just watching that kid suffering."

The buying and selling of organs is illegal in the United States. So Dave turned to the Internet. Aadil Hospital in Lahore advertises its kidney transplant program as a package deal.

"It was approximately, a little over $30,000," Dave said. "I never asked if it was legal or not."

Aadil Hospital claims to have a 97-percent success rate at kidney transplants. But Dave says one patient died during his stay.

Pakistan outlawed the selling and buying of organs last September. However, there is still a thriving black market.

"The kidney sellers are obviously people who are poor, unemployed, in debt. Some are prisoners," said Dr. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, director, Organs Watch.

Dr. Scheper-Hughes tracks the worldwide organ trade and says many hospitals employ their own "kidney hunters."

Some donors, desperate for cash, may be willing. Others, including mental patients, don't necessarily understand what they're getting into.

"Some of those men were not aware until they were forced up on an operating table. They were not aware that what their job was was the sale of a kidney," said Dr. Scheper-Hughes.

In footage shot by CNN, a man named Shakil, 28, said he was approached by a man in New Delhi, India, offering a well-paying job. Next thing Shakil knew, his kidney was being forcibly cut from his body.

Police in India broke up the transplant racket in January. Two Americans were among the patients waiting for a transplant.

"I was going over anyway. I didn't care if I was kidnapped, tortured, killed or whatever," said Dave.

During Dave's stay in Lahore, a suicide truck bomb killed 24 people and literally shook the hospital where he was staying.

"I heard a loud explosion, really loud," Dave said. "It was scary. There was everywhere ... guys with machine guns. The smell of gunpowder was overwhelming."

Days later, it was time to transplant a woman's kidney into Dave. Aadil Hospital claims the donor received $4,500.

"God bless her. She's saving my life," said Dave.

When describing the moments before the operation, Dave said, "They took me in there. It was kind of scary. I said, 'Oh man, I better start praying.' And I prayed."

Dave's operation went smoothly and he returned to Los Angeles. He says he is feeling well enough to play tennis again. And he has some things to tell his critics.

"I would say, 'Walk a mile in my shoes.' Some people think by getting a kidney from them, giving them money, you're exploiting them, and in a way that might be true. But that's never going to stop and they're saving lives," said Dave. "I don't know how I could ever pay her back."

Dave was hospitalized with a serious infection after he returned from Pakistan. However, in the end, Dave says he's in good health and has no regrets about the surgery.


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