BY CHAU LAM AND RIDGELY OCHS Newsday
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 says he wants it back.
He knows he won't get the kidney, but his attorney, Dominic Barbara of Garden City, said yesterday that his client would take $1.5 million - which, he said, reflects in part the value of the kidney transplant.
Richard Batista is seeking the kidney because he claimed he later found his wife was having an affair.
Dawnell Batista's attorney, Douglas Rothkopf of Garden City, would not address specifics, saying only, "The facts will speak for themselves and they're not as represented by Dr. Batista."
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 grounds for the divorce were unclear yesterday. The demand for the kidney was introduced yesterday, Barbara said.
Barbara said the $1.5 million his client feels he's entitled to reflects damages. "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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