Japanese gang figures get liver transplants from UCLA

A new investigation by a daily newspaper has found that a top Japanese crime figure and three other men affiliated with Japanese organize crime groups received liver transplants from Los Angeles-based UCLA Medical Center, despite the ongoing scarcity of such organs for U.S. patients. The four surgeries were done between 2000 and 2004, a time during which more than 100 patients died awaiting liver transplants in the greater Los Angeles region. The surgeon involved was Dr. Ronald Busuttil, executive chairman of UCLA's surgery department, a world-renowned liver surgeon.

While it's not a crime to learn that U.S. hospitals have provided organ transplants to foreign patients or patients with criminal histories, it's a bit painful to hear for U.S. patients who have been waiting (and dying) on the U.S. organ donor list in a time of great organ scarcity, observers note. The physicians involved, meanwhile, say that they don't make moral judgments on patients and simply address medical need.

What galls some observers further is that the most prominent transplant recipient, gang leader Tadamasa Goto, was otherwise barred from the U.S. because of his criminal history, but got in because he struck a deal to help the FBI with information on U.S. activity by Japanese gangs. When he arrived in 2001, he got his liver, but provided little information to law enforcement, FBI officials say.

To learn more about the medical, legal and ethical issues involved in the transplants:
- read this Los Angeles Times article

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