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A case of organ 'theft'

Published : Dec 13, 1997 00:00 IST

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The Washington Post reported late in October that Dorothy Zauhar had alleged that Richard McNutt, 64, courted her insincerely in the hope that she would lead him to a kidney and called off their proposed marriage after the kidney transplant.

Zauhar, a divorcee, and McNutt were engaged in mid-1995, six months after they first met. McNutt's kidneys were failing, he was on dialysis and he wanted a transplant. Zauhar offered him one of her kidneys, but doctors ruled her out. Her younger brother, John Dahl, then offered one of his kidneys and in return sought three things from McNutt: a life insurance policy, $5,000 as compensation for lost wages and a promise that McNutt would keep Zauhar happy.

But after the surgery (barely before they were out of the hospital driveway, Zauhar said) McNutt, his new kidney working fine, told her the wedding, set for a few weeks later, would have to be postponed on medical grounds. The insurance policy and lost wages too never materialised. Zauhar moved out after her suspicion that McNutt was dating a dialysis nurse from the local hospital was confirmed. McNutt married the nurse in June 1997. In September, Zauhar and her brother sued McNutt for $150,000.

Zauhar said in an interview: "There was a commitment on (Richard's) part that there was going to be a marriage and John was doing this because he loved me..."

McNutt's attorney issued a statement denying the allegation made in the lawsuit. "McNutt fully believed he was the beneficiary of a true gift and that Mr. Dahl was motivated only by the desire to help a fellow human being," the statement said.

As in India, it is illegal in the U.S. to accept money or other "valuable consideration" for an organ. The waiting list for organs from cadavers is long. In the case of live donors, there are procedures to determine whether the gift is truly voluntary, but doctors and ethicists concede that organs are often sold for money.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Dec 13, 1997.)

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