Transplants give recipients the gift of life - editorial

Though it is critical to survival, no one wants to be part of a discussion surrounding transplants - because no one wants to need them.

 Dr. Assaf Freeman, director of the corneal service at the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba and nurse Tatiana during the corneal transplant operation in Benjamin Goren’s eye. (photo credit: MEIR MEDICAL CENTER)
Dr. Assaf Freeman, director of the corneal service at the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba and nurse Tatiana during the corneal transplant operation in Benjamin Goren’s eye.
(photo credit: MEIR MEDICAL CENTER)

The Israel National Center for Transplants is running a public awareness campaign. In a TV ad, a girl is seen running to her father’s room one morning and finding it empty. Then her mother explains that he is in the hospital where he has received a new heart. “My mother told me it’s a good heart because it came from a good person,” the girl says.

It’s an excellent message. All organ transplants in Israel are handled by the National Transplant Center, established by the Health Ministry in 1994. Potential donors can sign an Adi card, which confirms that they are willing to have their organs donated after death. The card is named after Ehud Ben Dror, who died while waiting for a kidney donation.

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. As a result, there are 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.

Organ donation is not an easy topic to discuss. Nobody wants to be in a situation where they need to be the recipient, or in the position where they can donate. But it is a critically important issue nonetheless, and nobody is too young or too old to be considered as a donor.

High-profile transplants have rocked Israel to its core

Recently, there have been several high-profile cases of organ donations. Each stems from a tragedy, each giving life and hope to another family.

Last week, when one-year-old Ma’ayan Domanovich was killed in a road crash in which several members of his family were injured, the baby’s heart valves were saved and stored for future transplantation to an infant in need.

The organs of Lucy Dee, who was murdered along with her daughters Rina and Maia in a terrorist attack during Passover, were donated by her family. In all, five organs and her corneas were given to needy recipients after her death: Dee’s heart was transplanted to a 51-year-old mother-of-two; her lungs to a 58-year-old; her liver to a 25-year-old; one kidney to a 58-year-old, and the other kidney to a 39-year-old.

It is significant to note that her husband, Leo Dee, is an Orthodox rabbi who understood the significance of organ donations. Since saving a life (pikuah nefesh) is an overriding principle in Judaism, most rabbis approve of – 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.

The corneas of brothers Yagel and Hallel Yaniv, who were murdered in a terrorist attack in Huwara in March, were transplanted, saving the sight of four recipients. The brothers had both signed Adi cards.

In another well-known case, the organs of Or Eshkar, who was murdered in a March terrorist shooting attack in Tel Aviv, were donated to a year-old baby, three men and a woman.

Although there has been a steady rise in organ donations in Israel – from 231 in 2007 to a record 656 transplants last year – there are still hundreds of people in Israel, both children and adults, waiting for a transplant.

Israel is also a leader in altruistic live donations – people who give one of their kidneys or part of their liver, for example. Many of these donations are through the Matnat Chaim organization.

Sadly, however, in most cases, patients need an organ taken from someone who has just died. This is why signing a donor card is so important. 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. A signed Adi card helps them know the wishes of the deceased.

At a time when the country is suffering from serious internal splits, it is heartwarming to remind ourselves that there are good people who are willing to rise above personal tragedies to help others. As the Jewish precept states, whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the entire world. There can be no greater gift after death than granting life to another.