The crime seems to be in paying for the transplanted kidney

Judicial Investigating Organization photo Agents confiscated this files form the physician.

The case against a transplant physician seems to hinge on the fact that kidney donors were paid.

Prosecutors have not said so exactly. Instead they allege that Franciso Mora Palma, the physician, was involved in the illicit extraction of organs.

Paying organ donors was made illegal by a 1994 law that specifically addressed organ transplants. Article 5 of that law forbids the commercialization of human organs. Both receiving and giving a human organ is forbidden. The penalty for violation is three to 10 years in prison.

The 1994 law also creates a commission to regulate transplants and urges the construction of a hospital dedicated to transplants. Neither seem to have been done.

Prosecutors have not been talking about the 2993 law. Instead they have focused their comments on a law passed in October that forbids illicit extraction of organs. But that law does not define illicit. The October law mentioned organ transplants in passing because the main thrust of the law was trafficking in persons.

The Poder Judicial tried to explain this Wednesday by saying the physician and a woman who helped him find donors were accused of trafficking in persons for the ends of the illicit extraction of organs. The October law increases the possible prison time to from eight to 16 years.

The Poder Judicial also reported last Wednesday that a criminal court judge in San José ordered the physician and his helper detained for six months of preventative detention.  The helper was identified by the last name of Cordero. Prosecutors said she was a Fuerza Pública employee who moonlighted as a taxi driver.  While driving, she came in contact with individuals who agreed to donate a kidney for money. The Poder Judicial said that the price was as much as 10 million colons, about $20,000.

A.M. Costa Rica reported Wednesday on the case of a U.S. citizen who paid in excess of $150,000 for a transplant by Mora and hospital stay. And he acquired the kidney from a younger friend.

Even though the 1994 law criminalizes selling an organ, prosecutors said that they are seeking more persons who had done so and that they would treat them as victims rather than suspects. Considering that there may be more compensation involved, other donors are likely to come forward.

Agents searched 10 locations Tuesday when they arrested the physician, who is chief of nephrology at Hospital Calderón Guardia. In addition to that public hospital, Hospital Clinica Biblica in San José and Hospital Hotel la Católica in Guadalupe also were searched. So were three labs, houses and the physician’s private office, they said.

Mora has said in a YouTube video that he has done 550 kidney transplants. The criminal case involves two procedures which prosecutors said were done for the benefit of two patients from Israel. Mora was not accused of doing the surgeries but of determining the compatibility of donated kidneys and the potential recipient and also in coordinating the procedures.

The sudden interest of prosecutors in organ transplants stems from an article in a Mexican newspaper that characterized Costa Rica as a center for this type of medical treatment. That is why the organized crime prosecutors became involved.

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