Vice | December 12, 2014
By Sonja Sharp
It's a shocking image, one meant to jar sleepy subway commuters on their morning ride: Amid the sneakers and stilettos of urban partygoers stands a pair of bare feet, wearing the toe-tag of a corpse.
Every 15 hours, a New Yorker dies waiting for an organ, the tagline reads. Become an organ donor.
What the ad doesn't say and most donors don't know is that a growing number of the state's deceased donor organs aren't going to New Yorkers at all, but to Saudi sheikhs and other mega-wealthy 1 percenters with no ties to the United States. They actually take holidays here for the sole purpose of obtaining the organs.
Sound illegal? It's not.
The same 1984 law that prohibits you from selling your kidney or a nub of your liver while you're alive enshrines the right of wealthy foreigners to receive them once you're dead. So long as recipients pay full price for the procedure and wait on the same list as everyone else, they can procure a liver, kidney, heart, lung, pancreas, or length of intestine at a top-flight transplant center in their pick of major American cities where hundreds of locals will die waiting for those same organs each year.
"Originally, it was no big deal, because there was no great shortage of organs," explained Doctor Gabriel Danovitch, a former committee member of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit that manages the country's deceased donor organs under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HSRA)...