2006_12_kidney.jpgAt first, it sounds like a really sweet story. Peter Lucia of Long Island had died, and his widow donated one of his kidneys to Lucia's childhood friend from the Bronx, Robert Colavito, who had renal disease. But Colavito's doctors found it was "irreparably damaged" and requested Lucia's other kidney. But Lucia's wife had donated it to the NY Organ Donor Network, a non-profit donor network, and the kidney was headed to someone else. So Colavito sued for $60 million.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals ruled that Colavito, who died this year, had no right to the other kidney. The NY Sun has a write-up of the ruling:

In deciding that Colavito did not have property rights to the second kidney, the Court of Appeals weighed heavily on the fact that the kidney had no medical value to Colavito. The court did not indicate how it would have ruled had Colavito been able to use the kidney.

"We need not identify or forecast the circumstances in which someone may conceivably have actionable rights in the body or organ of a deceased person," Judge Albert Rosenblatt wrote in a decision signed by the other six judges on the court.

Still, as a starting point, the decision suggests that in New York donated organs are not treated legally as property that can be transferred by contract.

That finding, the court notes, is consistent with a common law tradition that family members cannot sue over the corpses of family members. But at times in the decision, the court seems noncommittal about just how relevant such legal traditions are in an age when organ harvesting can directly save lives.

"When discussing the body parts of deceased person, it is unlikely that our forbears had in mind that human organs might be transplanted to extend life or improve health," the decision says.

Organs are not property! Colavito's family will appeal the ruling; their lawyer said, "I see horrific consequences from this. It means if you make a directed donation and sign the consent form, they're under no obligation to give the organ to the person you consent to."

Lucia's wife did want Colavito to have the other kidney, which was actually not yet transferred when Colavito's doctors inquired about it. The thing is, neither of Lucia's kidneys were compatible with Colavito.

Image from i heart guts