News stories about the breakthrough made by a Tel Aviv University team by “printing” the world’s first 3-D vascularized, engineered heart a few months ago received much deserved publicity worldwide.
An artificial heart, which was made using a patient’s own cells and biological material, could one day reduce or even abolish the need for human donors for heart transplants, an encouraging thought by any means.
This is the type of research at which Israel excels, but even if it proves successful in the long-term, it does not help those who need a solution now – those whose lives literally rely on receiving a suitable donor heart. And of course it is not only patients suffering from heart conditions who wait desperately for organ transplants.
Some of these situations can be solved by altruistic live donors – people who give one of their kidneys or part of their liver, for example. Sadly, in most cases, patients need an organ taken from someone who has just died. This is where the importance of signing a donor’s card is so significant.
In Israel, people can sign an Adi card, named after Ehud Ben Dror, who died while waiting for a kidney donation. Adi donor cards testify to the willingness of the holders to donate their organs after death. The National Transplant Center, established by the Health Ministry in 1994, coordinates the transplants. Gender, religion, and ethnic origin are not factors. Donors cannot stipulate to give their organs only to certain recipients, and the recipients cannot demand to receive the transplanted organ only from a specific type of person.
This leads to many poignant stories of Jewish and Muslim families connected by fate, where a family of one religion has donated the organs of a relative to help another.
“The signatories of a donor card express their readiness to donate organs for transplant after their death, and by so doing, fulfill the noble human duty of saving life,” declares the Adi website.
The site also notes that Israel is the first and only country in which The Organ Transplant Law (2008) includes an article granting priority on the transplant waiting list “to the signatories of the donor card and to their close relatives, should they, by misfortune, need a transplant in the future.”
Even when a potential donor has signed an Adi card, the family is consulted before the organs are harvested and has the right to refuse. In most cases, however, since the relatives have a clear testament of the wishes and intent of the deceased, it makes taking the decision to approve organ donation much easier.
A family that has to decide whether to approve the organ removal within minutes of hearing the most terrible news of the death of their loved one is often not able to think clearly. That’s why signing an Adi card helps them make known the last wishes of the deceased.
Although there has been a steady rise in organ donations in Israel – from 231 in 2007 to 592 in 2018 – there are more than 1,000 people in Israel, children and adults, waiting for a transplant. According to Adi, about 700 are waiting for a kidney transplant, some 150 for a liver transplant, approximately 70 for lungs and about 120 for a heart. “Only 250 people on the waiting list will have the chance of a transplant in the course of the next year, and about 100 will die waiting,” the organization states.
Since saving a life (pikuah nefesh) is an overriding principle in Judaism, most rabbis approve – and even encourage – organ donation. In September 2009, the Chief Rabbinate under Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Yona Metzger confirmed that the Brain-Respiratory Death Law is in accordance with Halacha.
In addition to Adi, there is another amazing organization called Matnat Chaim (Gift of Life) that performs the mitzva of matching altruistic kidney donors to those in need.
But first and foremost is the basic step of signing an Adi card. If you don’t have one, consider doing it today.