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Man wants wife's kidney back--or $1.5M

When Dr. Richard Batista's wife needed a kidney, he gave her one of his.

And now that Dawnell Batista has filed for a divorce, he wants it back.

If he can't get the kidney, his attorney, Dominic Barbara of Garden City, said Wednesday that his client wants $1.5 million -- which, he said, reflects in part the value of the kidney transplant.

Dawnell Batista, 44, of Massapequa, could not be reached and her attorney, Douglas Rothkopf of Garden City, declined to comment in detail.

"The facts will speak for themselves and they're not as represented by Dr. Batista," Rothkopf said.


Medical ethicists agreed that the case is a nonstarter. Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics said the likelihood of Batista getting either his kidney or cash was "somewhere between impossible and completely impossible."

Robert Veatch, a medical ethicist at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics, noted that "it's illegal for an organ to be exchanged for anything of value." Organs in the United States may not be bought or sold. Donating an organ is a gift and legally, "when you give something, you can't get it back," he said.

"It's her kidney now and . . . taking the kidney out would mean she would have to go on dialysis or it would kill her," Veatch said.

Barbara said his client isn't really looking for Dawnell Batista to give back her kidney. "Does he really want the kidney back? Of course not," he said.

Batista said his aim instead was to draw attention to her not allowing him agreed-upon visitation with the couple's three children, ages 14, 11 and 8.

Batista, 49, of Ronkonkoma, said he donated his kidney to his wife in June 2001, after she had undergone two other failed transplants when her kidneys ceased working.

"My first priority was to save her life," Batista said at a news conference in Garden City. "The second bonus was to turn the marriage around."

Batista, a surgeon at Nassau University Medical Center since 1992, said the marriage had been shaky because of his wife's illness.

Initially, Batista said he was happy with his gift of life: "I was walking on a cloud. I did the right thing for her and to this day I would do it again."

Dawnell Batista, a nurse, filed for divorce in July 2005, and her husband countersued that same year. The demand for the kidney was not part of the original countersuit, but was introduced Wednesday, Barbara said.

Barbara said the $1.5 million his client feels he's entitled to reflects damages, including how much money she made as a result of being able to continue working and not having to go on dialysis. "A price can't be placed on a human organ but it does have value," he said.

Caplan disagreed. "There's nothing later you can get in terms of compensation if you regret your gift," he said.

Staff writer John Valenti contributed to this story.


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