Give life

Israel ranks a disappointing 27th out of 39 countries in organ donation.

organ donation 88 (photo credit: )
organ donation 88
(photo credit: )
Judith Nusbaum was the recipient of a pre-Hanukka miracle. On December 11, she received a kidney from Martin Filla, an Australian Christian, which saved her life. Nusbaum suffered from renal failure for six years and went on dialysis in February. After being told by her doctor that it might take three to five years to find a donor, Nusbaum decided to look for one herself. Using the Internet she found Martin Filla, part of a group whose members are donating their kidneys to "make the world a better place." Filla's selfless act saved the life of a woman he hadn't met and who lived thousands of kilometers away. But his generosity is also a sharp reminder that in Israel transplant candidates are more likely to find an organ donor on the other side of the world than next door. For all we know, the prospect that non-Israelis might come to our rescue actually discourages local donors. This needs to change. While the Health Ministry says there are over 1,000 Israelis in need of transplants, just 4 percent of citizens have signed the "ADI Donor Card." (To register for an ADI Donor Card, go to the Hebrew-language Web site: According to data from the International Registry of Organ Donation and Transplantation, Israel ranks 27th out of 39 countries. Last year, of the 154 instances where donation was possible, just 67 transplants took place. Organ donation (with permission from the immediate family) has been legal in Israel since 1953. And halachic authorities have ruled it permissible from a Jewish legal perspective. For instance, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the great halachic arbiters of the 20th century, essentially approved of heart transplants. In a responsum, Rabbi David Golinkin of Israel's Masorti movement writes: "Organ donation after death falls under the category of pikuah nefesh [saving a life] and should be encouraged providing it has been established without a shadow of a doubt that the donor is halachically dead. It is recommended to carry an 'ADI Donor Card' because it removes any legal and halachic confusion after a person dies." Non-haredi Orthodox authorities in Israel have also given permission in principle, though the ultra-Orthodox permit donations only after brain death, which greatly diminishes the chances of success. The government has taken steps to encourage Israelis to get into the habit of carrying donor cards. The Knesset approved a law in its first reading two weeks ago that would allow 17-year-olds to register for such a card. Meanwhile, there are reports that Health Minister Dan Naveh reached an agreement with the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee that the families of donors would receive life insurance from the state for the rest of their lives. The ministry has rightly rejected petitions from overseas organizations who want to bring donors to Israel at taxpayer expense. And the Israel Medical Association was also correct to reject a motion that would have given preferential treatment to transplant candidates who had signed a donor card themselves. Financial remuneration is not the way to encourage people to donate organs. To introduce a commercial element is to encourage immoral behavior and opens up a Pandora's box of ethical issues. But while it is very much a personal decision to undertake what is essentially a moral, ethical, civic and religious obligation of saving a life by being prepared to donate an organ, the nation's spiritual and political leaders should be encouraging a new pro-organ donor mind-set. In tragic times, for the family members of fatal accident victims or those who die other unnatural deaths, organ donation can be a cathartic experience. Knowing that the death of a loved one has contributed to saving the lives of as many as seven other people can have a powerful healing effect. A few years ago, the family of a British student in yeshiva here, killed in a suicide bombing, donated his organs to what it turned out were Israeli and Palestinian recipients. A couple of months ago, the family of a Palestinian child who was accidentally killed by the IDF decided to donate his organs to both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Such cases make bigger headlines than those of organ donations by native Israelis. But in all such cases, the donating families' extraordinary courage in the face of devastating loss is both humbling and inspiring. More Israelis should be encouraged to choose to emulate their heroism.