Gifts of life

According to the Israel National Center for Transplants, there are now seven organ donations in Israel per million residents.

February 6, 2010 21:20
3 minute read.
Gifts of life

organ transplant 88. (photo credit: )


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There’s an undeniable element of self-flagellation in the Israeli psyche. Putting ourselves down appears at times to be a compulsive national pastime. And one matter on which we are accustomed to severely reproving ourselves is for not donating enough organs for transplants.

Such self-criticism may have been merited in the past. But no longer.

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In fact, latest figures place Israel as proportionately No. 2 in the world in this field – preceded only by Australia and followed by the US. The newly released statistics for 2009 rank Israel in the very forefront of the most progressive of scientifically advanced and forward-thinking western states.

According to the Israel National Center for Transplants, there are now seven organ donations in Israel per million residents. In Australia the figure is double at 14.3 organ donations per million. The US comes in third with 4.9 donations per million.

This is nothing for us to scoff at. In both Australia and America the ratio of traditional communities in the overall population is far smaller than in Israel. The fact that within a relatively short span of time Israel has managed to change so many minds and move so many hearts entitles us to no small degree of pride.

The absolute numbers may not be staggering, but then again, we are a very tiny country. Yet what the increase in donations indicates is significant. In the past year 69 Israeli families, out of 125 approached, agreed to donate the organs of close relatives judged to be brain-dead. This marks the first time in the 12 years since organ-donations records have been kept here that the number of consents exceeded the number of refusals.

Moreover, these records show a very stable year-on-year rise. There has been no regression.


To be sure, needs still outstrip organ availability. Currently 1,069 individuals await transplants in Israel, a 16% increase over the past year. During that year 282 transplants (not all from deceased donors) were performed here,  some involving multiple organs.

In all 257 organs (not counting corneas) from the dead were transplanted here in 2009. Among these were 47 lungs, a figure that places Israel very high proportionately to most other countries.

At the same time, more and more healthy individuals have consented to donate their own organs in the event of their own brain death. The number of Israelis carrying an Adi organ-donor card rose in the past year by a whopping 45,000 reaching 516,000 people.

UNDERSTANDABLY, ALL this has engendered gratification at the Transplant Center, where it is believed that over a decade of sometimes seemingly Sisyphean struggles against ingrained misconceptions and prejudices – primarily religious – are at last bearing fruit.

Not only is there a demonstrably greater grassroots willingness to donate organs, but rabbinical perceptions are gradually altering as well, with more and more halachic rulings coming to terms with current medical opinion on when death occurs and how it ought to be ascertained.

To be sure, hesitancy hasn’t only been religious. Many members of our so-called secular sector evince entrenched deep-seated reservations about whether to accept the finality of brain-death diagnoses.

Nevertheless, a striking shift has occurred in recent years, which few of us could quantify and appreciate in real time. Besides providing indisputable help to the desperate beneficiaries of life-saving organ-donations, the transformation we are witnessing should prove even to the greatest skeptics and most carping critics in our midst that we are a society that remains open to change and advancement, both in the broad scientific arena and on the most fundamental humanitarian level.

That, perhaps more than all else, sets us apart from our more numerous and far wealthier neighbors in this region. Our core values, openmindedness and embrace of innovative ideas are our strengths. The change of thinking on organ transplants is a case in point.

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