If you’re in Los Angeles waiting for an organ transplant and you’re a law-abiding American citizen, too bad for you.
UCLA Medical Center and its most accomplished liver surgeon provided a life-saving transplant to one of Japan’s most powerful gang bosses, law enforcement sources told The Times.
In addition, the surgeon performed liver transplants at UCLA on three other men who are now barred from entering the United States because of their criminal records or suspected affiliation with Japanese organized crime groups, said a knowledgeable law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The four surgeries were done between 2000 and 2004 at a time of pronounced organ scarcity. In each of those years, more than 100 patients died awaiting liver transplants in the Greater Los Angeles region.
The surgeon in each case was Dr. Ronald W. Busuttil, executive chairman of UCLA’s surgery department, according to another person familiar with the matter who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Busuttil is a world-renowned liver surgeon who co-edited a leading text on liver transplantation and is one of the highest-paid employees in the University of California system.
There is no evidence that UCLA or Busuttil knew at the time of the transplants that any of the patients had ties to Japanese gangs, commonly called yakuza. Both said in statements that they do not make moral judgments about patients and treat them based on their medical need.
U.S. transplant rules do not prohibit hospitals from performing transplants on either foreign patients or those with criminal histories.
The most prominent transplant recipient, Tadamasa Goto, had been barred from entering the U.S. because of his criminal history, several current and former law enforcement officials said. Goto leads a gang called the Goto-gumi, which experts describe as vindictive and at times brutal.
The FBI helped Goto obtain a visa to enter the United States in 2001 in exchange for leads on potentially illegal activity in this country by Japanese criminal gangs, said Jim Stern, retired chief of the FBI’s Asian criminal enterprise unit in Washington.
Goto got his liver, Stern said, but provided the bureau with little useful information on Japanese gangs.
“I don’t think Goto gave the bureau anything of significance,” Stern said. Goto “came to the States and got a liver and was laughing back to where he came from. . . . It defies logic.”
Despite these repeated injustices, health officials refuse to make law-abiding Americans a priority over foreign nationals seeking transplants, kidneys, hearts, or any other vital organs. This sums up the screwed-up system:
“If you want to destroy public support for organ donation on the part of Americans, you’d be hard pressed to think of a practice that would be better suited,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Where are all the health care reformers when you need them?
Ed Morrissey has extensive personal experience with the transplant system. His thoughts here.
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