Friday, March 2, 2012
Israel is pioneering a new transplant system approach other than the typical opt-in/opt-out approaches that are used in other countries. The Israeli system will give transplant priority to patients who agree to donate their organs. It is the first country in the world to incorporate "nonmedical" criteria into the system after medical criteria is considered.
Jacob Levee is a cardiothoracic surgeon who initiated the transplant program. He had two patients who were ultra-Orthodox, Haredi Jews. Haredi Jews cannot donate organs according to their religious beliefs, but these patient had no problem accepting organ donations. Dr. Lavee thought that this was unfair to expect an organ, but not be willing to give one in return and this sparked his idea for the new proposal.
One of the most challenging aspects in getting the law to succeed was winning over the country's highly influential religious leadership, which was not supportive of organ donation. The Talmud states that saving a life supersedes almost everything, so the argument could be made that organ donation is a way to achieve that religious virtue. A huge public awareness campaign followed the collaborative efforts of lawmakers and religious leaders to counter the perception that Jewish law forbids organ donation. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and during the ten weeks of the publicity campaign, 70,000 Isrealis sought out donation cards. The law also provides fair compensation for living donors to compensate for any lost wages or expenses that are related to the donation.
Critics of the new system say that it is unethical to have "nonmedical" factors taken into consent for organ donation determination. Others feel that the new law makes the donation process more fair and increases the amount of organs available for everyone.
See Danielle Ofri, In Israel, a New Approach to Organ Donation, The New York Times, Mar. 2, 2012.