Yael German’s crusade

Hospital surgical teams are reluctant to use an organ willed by the deceased if a close relative – adult child, parent or sibling – opposes it.

June 29, 2013 22:31
3 minute read.
Health Minister Yael German.

Health Minister Yael German 370. (photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)

Most of the hundreds of thousands of people who are registered with the Israel Transplant organization and carry an ADI card as a potential organ donor would be shocked to hear that even if their organs are needed and healthy, the operation may never take place.

This is because hospital surgical teams are reluctant to use an organ willed by the deceased if a close relative – adult child, parent or sibling – opposes it. Every year, hundreds of people die for lack of a kidney, heart, lung, liver, pancreas or others that would save a their lives, as a result of the severe shortage of organs.

Now, Health Minister Yael German of Yesh Atid has voiced her support for an arrangement that has long existed in many countries around the world: The default would be that if a person suffers brain death and his organ can be used, it will go for transplant without getting permission from his relatives or even looking for an organ donor card.

Only if the person stated in his lifetime that he refused to be an organ donor – with a formal signed statement deposited with some government agency – would the deceased be buried without giving an organ.

This idea has been proposed here many times in recent years, and health ministers who are haredi – and others who fear opposition by the ultra-Orthodox parties and conservative MKs in other factions – have strongly opposed it.

As haredim – at least in Israel but not unanimously in the US and other countries – oppose the use of organs taken from brain-dead individuals whose heart is still beating, such a liberal proposal to save lives is likely to be doomed in the Knesset.

German, a former longtime mayor of Herzliya, has been making a lot of policy statements lately – from the organ donor issue and easing restrictions on the use of medical cannabis to favoring fortification of food with vital nutrients to halting mandatory fluoridation.

Some people may claim German, who came to the office knowing relatively little about national health issues, was deciding her positions too fast. Maybe so, but many of her predecessors in the ministry fought reform with much enthusiasm and were afraid to push for change.

We favor at least some of her suggestions, but not the end to fluoridation, because it has been proven around the world to protect in a significant way the teeth of children, especially those in poorer groups who may not even brush their teeth, let alone use fluoride toothpaste.

Claims that tiny amounts of fluoride added to potable water cause cancer or thyroid disease have been dismissed by thousands of studies; fluoridation has been endorsed by everyone from the Israel Dental Association to the US surgeon-general and the American Dental Association, and the secretary-general of the World Health Organization.

The dental health of Israel’s children is shockingly poor, despite hundreds of millions of shekels being spent by the government on then-deputy health minister MK Ya’acov Litzman’s program for basic dental treatment by health fund dentists. The budget bill is likely to at least temporarily curb the program by preventing it from adding older children – a wise policy until an objective study is made of its efficacy – or lack of it – in improving youngsters’ dental health.

But German is not wrong on making organ donation the default option. People who oppose giving organs can easily register to refuse to supply their own organs to save lives. Those who agree to the default system will be pleased. Of course, if such a bill were enacted, it would have to be accompanied by a major public service advertising campaign so that people are aware of the change.

The Health Ministry, upon which low-level politicians have so often been foisted as ministers and which has often suffered from unimaginative officials, is to be congratulated for finally having at its head a person – a woman – who is ready to think differently and to fight for worthy ideas.

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