Japanese NPO suspected of facilitating transplant using trafficked kidney

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry / The Environment Ministry. In Central Gov’t Bldg. No.5, Chiyoda ward, Tokyo

A Tokyo-based nonprofit organization is suspected of having facilitated an overseas living donor kidney transplant that used a trafficked kidney. Audio and video recordings obtained by The Yomiuri Shimbun and interviews with individuals affiliated with the NPO reveal that the donor was a Ukrainian woman who was having financial difficulties, and that the price for her kidney was about $15,000 (¥2 million).

The Organ Transplant Law prohibits organ trafficking as well as demands for or promises of organ sales. In 2008, the Transplantation Society issued the “Declaration of Istanbul,” which states that organ trafficking should be prohibited because it violates “the principles of equity, justice, and respect for human dignity.”

The NPO in question is Intractable Disease Patient Support Association (Nanbyo Kanja Shien no Kai), headquartered in Meguro Ward, Tokyo. According to the organization’s website, the NPO has been referring patients seeking organ transplants to hospitals in China and other countries since 2003, and has reportedly been involved in more than 100 transplants, mainly from cadavers. In the case of kidney transplants, the NPO has received fees of around ¥20 million per patient.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has obtained several audio and video recordings relevant to the present case, including one of a Yokohama man who serves as the NPO’s director communicating with a Turkish coordinator. Testimonies were also obtained from individuals affiliated with the NPO and patients who had undergone surgery.

According to the recordings and testimonies, the NPO asked the Turkish coordinator for his cooperation after it was no longer possible to travel to China due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In December last year, the coordinator guided four Japanese men and women to a hospital in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, where the coordinator had arranged for them to receive kidney transplants.

The NPO agreed to pay about $80,000 (¥10.7 million) per patient for the surgery, of which about $15,000 would be the donor fee for the organ.

The first of the four to undergo surgery was a 58-year-old woman from the Kansai region. The donor was a Ukrainian woman who received nearly $15,000 in return for her donated kidney and told those around her that she had used it to pay for her daughter’s school fees.

The woman who received the transplant became seriously ill after the operation. She returned to Japan at the beginning of this year and was hospitalized. The transplanted kidney was not functioning and had to be surgically removed. The doctor told her that if she had returned home one hour later, she might have died. The operations for the three remaining Japanese were canceled after an Israeli who came to the same hospital through a different route and underwent transplant surgery died.

In June, the NPO and the Turkish coordinator held an online meeting. The NPO had already paid the coordinator a total of $45,000 in donor fees for the three patients who were not able to have their surgeries.

The two confirmed that the deal remained unfinished and agreed to work to resolve the issue. The Turkish coordinator was arrested by Ukrainian authorities in 2017 on suspicion of involvement in organ trafficking, and he is still on trial.

The NPO director responded to The Yomiuri Shimbun questions in writing, saying that he was not involved in the case and that he did not know about the payment to the donor. “The NPO is not involved in any activities except for hospitalization and discharge procedures and support for patients’ personal care,” he explained.

Health minister to gather info

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Shigeyuki Goto said Monday he will gather information on a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization’s involvement in suspected organ trafficking.

“I will work on gathering information while collaborating with relevant academic societies,” Goto said at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting Monday. “If police ask me for cooperation, I will fully cooperate with them.”