Kazakhstan holds doctor over Israel-linked organ harvesting scheme

Police say destitute people from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were forced to sell their kidneys to wealthy foreigners, mostly Israelis

Illustrative image of a doctor in a hospital ward (sudok1; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a doctor in a hospital ward (sudok1; iStock by Getty Images)

Police in Kazakhstan detained a doctor this week for harvesting organs from poor people and using them in illegal transplants for wealthy foreigners, the interior ministry said.

People from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were among those who had been “forced to sell their kidneys due to (their) difficult financial situation,” according to the ministry.

“Recipients were wealthy citizens of foreign countries, mainly Israel,” its statement said, adding that the doctor, named as Abilay Donbay, had received “high financial rewards” for the operations during 2017-2018.

The doctor was arrested on Monday, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

A persistent taboo among Jewish communities has led to very low rates of organ donation in Israel, pushing some people to turn to transplant tourism.

Donbay, who worked in a state hospital in the southern city of Shymkent, was detained on charges of belonging to a transnational criminal group and illegal removal of human organs.

The ministry said police had arrested another doctor at the same hospital, as well as a Kyrgyz national described as “one of the members of the criminal group.”

Transplants are regulated in Kazakhstan and organs can be taken only from willing donors listed on a state database.

For years, Israel and Jewish communities elsewhere have had a low rate of organ donations compared with Western countries.

The taboo stems from a belief among some Jewish scholars that the religion does not support organ donations.

However, some rabbis have led a pushback against the taboo and a 2008 law has improved donation rates.

A total of 592 transplants were carried out in Israel last year, an increase of 13 percent over 2017, according to the National Transplant Center (NTC).

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