The L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv hopes to end a
lingering dispute with the families of approximately 8,200 people by burying the
coin-sized human tissue that had previously been stored in the
The institute will instead save a microscopic amount of tissue
from people who died an unnatural death between 2000 and 2011.
institute, owned by the Health Ministry, announced on Sunday that families could
have the small pieces of tissue buried at no cost to them in a special
collective grave at the Yarkon Cemetery (for Jews) or other sites for Muslims
and Christians. If they insist on having the small remnants of tissue buried in
the deceased person’s own grave, the families would have to cover the
The burial societies would charge about NIS 1,000 for this task,
but if – in the process – the gravestone would be damaged, it could cost the
family much more.
Meir Broder, a senior lawyer in the ministry’s legal
department – who appeared at Abu Kabir along with ministry director-general
Prof. Ronni Gamzu and associate director- general Dr. Boaz Lev – said it was
important to the ministry to end this sad controversy.
“This campaign is
being called Menuha Bekavod [Hebrew for “rest with honor”], and we want to bring
it to a conclusion,” he said.
The forensic medicine institute run by
Prof. Yehuda Hiss has aroused controversy in the past, specifically when it was
discovered by a Hebrew newspaper that tissues from internal organs of patients
who died of unnatural causes would remain in storage if a legal judgement were
called into question and a retrial were held.
Then, from 2000, after the
Segelson Committee sat to discuss the issue, it was agreed by the legal,
medical, forensic and other authorities that taking a small bit of tissue the
size of a 10-agora coin was enough to determine and prove the cause of
When the tissue was stored at Abu Kabir, many families objected to
this as well. After experts said a microscopicsized sample is sufficient to
prove the cause of death, said Broder, the ministry and Abu Kabir agreed to go
Regardless, Hiss and colleagues have long had the conservative
view that larger samples are needed for absolutely definitive
Thus, between 2000 and 2011, almost no tissue samples were
“The Health Ministry couldn’t decide policy on this issue, as it
would be regarded as interfering with evidence,” said Broder. “Some factors in
the issue said the tissue should be kept permanently; others said it should be
preserved for 20 years. But while a tiny minority of cases might not be resolved
by a microscopic sample of a few microns being preserved on slides at the
institute, the vast majority will, and we want the dead to have
Most of the coin-sized samples were taken from bodies of victims
of criminal action or terror attacks.
According to Jewish law, body
tissue from the deceased that is the size of a kezayit (a Talmudic unit of
volume approximately equal to the size of an average olive) must be buried.
Since the stored samples will be microscopic, they would not have to be buried
according to Jewish law.
When the families were surveyed, a third said
they agreed to the coin-sized tissue samples being buried in a collective grave,
but a third insisted that they be buried in their loved ones’
Broder said only a tiny minority of the remains were from haredi
or national religious people.
Until the end of this week, a panel of
professionals – lawyers, psychologists, social workers and clergymen – will man
the ministry’s *5400 information hot line between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to discuss
the campaign with the families.
After that, if they leave a message,
someone will call them back.
“We are acting in full transparency,” said
Broder. “I know some will still try to sue the state over this, but we want to
bring the tissue samples to burial. We know that there is great sensitivity
among Israelis about the burial of all human tissue.”
But in the Knesset,
three MKs reacted to the ministry announcement by insisting that families should
not have to pay for burying their loved ones’ tissue in their own
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev, Kadima MK Rachel Adatto and
Shas MK Avraham Michaeli said that families must not be penalized for what the
forensic institute has done.
They called on MK David Rotem (Israel
Beiteinu), head of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee, to convene the
panel for an urgent discussion of the decision.
Maklev maintained that
the decision “partially violates halacha” and proclaimed the coin-sized pieces
of tissue as “body parts.”
The haredi MK said that no tissue should
remain in storage because of the “very rare fear” that there is not enough data
in case of a reinvestigation or retrial.
Adatto said that the families
should not have to pay for reburial due to government ministry failures. Many of
the families, she said, weren’t even aware that tissue samples had been taken.