Fewer Israelis Seeking Kidney Transplants Abroad in Wake of Anti-trafficking Laws

Law meant to prevent organ trafficking passed in 2008 also means the number of transplants within the country, as well as the percentage of Haredi men seeking to donate for altruistic reasons, is on the upswing; more women serve as live donors than men.

Dan Even
Ronny Linder
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Dan Even
Ronny Linder

The number of Israelis seeking kidney transplants abroad is plummeting, in the wake of a 2008 law meant to prevent organ trafficking.

In 2007, 143 Israelis received kidney transplants abroad, but according to Health Ministry statistics, that number took a nosedive to 35 in 2011.

The sharp decline comes as a result of more stringent guidelines for transplants; since the law was passed, HMOs have approved funding for kidney transplants abroad only from cadavers in the United States, Russia and Latvia.

While transplants abroad have dropped, the new Organ Transplant Law has also led to a 50-percent increase in kidney transplants from live donors in Israel. A new study conducted at Beilinson Hospital and at Tel Aviv University found that the law, which both prohibits the sale of organs but also – in a first-time ruling – allows live donors to receive monetary compensation, has led to a significant change in the mix of such donors. Haredi men are now seeking, via the law, to donate kidneys for altruistic reasons. In these cases, the donors are not related to the patients.

The payment of donors under the new law, amounting to thousands of shekels, began in August 2010, covering all live organ donors in Israel from May 2008. At the same time, statistics provided by the National Transplant Center showed a steep increase of 64 percent in the number of live kidney donors in 2011 (117 transplants) as compared with 2010 (71). The number of transplants in 2012 (108) was at a similar level.

Another study examining the shifting social profile of live donors due to the law was conducted by Professor Eytan Mor, head of the Department of Organ Transplantation at Beilinson Hospital (where 80 percent of Israel’s kidney transplants are performed). The study shows that there are more women serving as live donors than men. A paper summing up findings about 475 kidney transplants from January 2004 to December 2012 determined that even after the Organ Transplant Law went into effect, the majority of live kidney donors were women. Before the law went into effect, 60.2 percent of donors were women. The number was 58.8 percent afterward.

The study found that the donors tended to be people who were not related to the patient and who donated for altruistic reasons. Compared to the sample group before the law was passed, they were better off financially, older and more educated. The study also found a unique group of Haredi men, mainly those who had chosen to adopt a religious lifestyle later in life, who wished to donate a kidney to an unrelated person as a mitzvah, or good deed. The percentage of altruistic donors who were educated in yeshiva and in kollel rose from 2 percent of the total number of altruistic donors before the law to 22 percent after it was passed. At the same time, altruistic donations by non-Jewish Israelis decreased from 37.5 percent before the law was passed to only 8.3 percent afterward.

A doctor performing surgery.Credit: AP