Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Russian Patients Killed For Their Kidneys

Patients 'killed for their kidneys'
By Julius Strauss in Moscow
(Filed: 22/09/2004)

Four doctors are to appear in court today accused of killing a sick patient to steal his kidneys for sale to westerners willing to pay thousands of pounds for an illegal transplant.
The trial follows a police operation in Russia which is said to have uncovered a ring of corrupt officials and doctors who routinely murder patients for cash.
A television documentary claims that the murder of badly-injured or sick patients is widespread and senior health officials are pocketing huge sums as middle-men.
Last April police raided an operating theatre following a tip-off and allegedly discovered doctors preparing to extract the kidneys of a patient with a serious head injury.
The patient's stomach had already been swabbed with disinfectant and surgeons were preparing to extract his kidneys, which can fetch up to 50,000 dollars (£28,000) each on the international black market.
The investigators also found blank, signed death certificates which are only supposed to be issued by an overseeing committee after a patient's death.
Defence lawyers claim that the badly-injured man, Anatoly Orekhov, who was 56 and disabled, was brain dead and was being kept alive only by an artificial respirator.
But transcripts of tapped telephone conversations have been published in Moscow that appear to show that the doctors knew what they were doing was illegal.
In one, a nurse preparing a patient for transplant says: "God forgive me for my sins." The transcripts also support claims that the organ theft was part of a wider scheme overseen by officials in the Moscow coordination centre for organ donations.
In one transcript the head of the centre, Marina Minina, can be heard urging doctors to induce a coma in a patient so a transplant can begin.
Foreigners applying for legal transplants from Russian donors pay 25,000 dollars (£14,000) for a kidney. Russians pay 7,000 dollars (£4,000). But both are often forced to wait. To fill the gap in the market corrupt officials apparently entered the foreigners on waiting lists as Russians and pushed them to the top of the queue.
They set a price of around 18,000 dollars (£10,000) for speedy transplants and listed the operations as if the recipients were Russians, pocketing the difference. The doctors themselves were apparently paid as little as 200 dollars (£111) for each death.
A nurse, who used to work at the coordination centre, told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda: "I can no longer sleep. Those who understand medicine will understand how many patients were simply killed by our doctors.
"The system is well-honed. We worked with several Moscow hospitals. The quality of a donor kidney taken from a patient whose heart is still beating is much better than one taken from a dead donor. And its price is much higher."
Pyotr Piyatnichuk and Bairma Shagdurova, two of the doctors on trial, are facing charges of aggravated murder, punishable with the death sentence, although Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty.
The other two doctors, Irina Lirstman and Lyudmila Pravdenko, are being charged as accomplices to murder. But leading health ministry and transplant officials, who were allegedly involved, have escaped prosecution.
Arkady Mamontov, the journalist who led the investigation, said: "The bureaucrats have escaped prosecution because the organ mafia is protecting them. It is the doctors who have been sacrificed."
Yuri Kostnaov, one of five lawyers for the defence, said the entire case had been paid for by competitors anxious to muscle in on the illegal donor business. He named a former minister of health as one of the men who had profited from the scandal.