Organ Donations and Transplants in Israel Climb 30%

A growing number of Israelis 'agreed to suffer pain and discomfort in order to save a life and rescue patients' in 2015, with some 860,000 registered potential donors.

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Doctors at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot are fighting to save the life of a seven-month-old suffering from a rare case of botulinum toxin poisoning. (Illustrative photo)
Doctors at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot are fighting to save the life of a seven-month-old suffering from a rare case of botulinum toxin poisoning. (Illustrative photo)Credit: Getty Images

Last year the number of organ donations and transplants in Israel broke a record, reaching 433 transplants from living and dead donors, compared to 333 in 2014 and 231 in 2007, ADI, the National Transplant Center reported.

The main increase was in living kidney donors. During 2015, 174 kidneys were transplanted, 107 of them donated by relatives of the patients and the rest by strangers who did so to save a life.

“One hundred and seventy four donors underwent a long process of examinations and evaluations, left their natural environment, family and work and undertook surgery to have a kidney removed from their body,” says Dr. Tamar Ashkenazi, director of the National Transplant Center. “They all agreed to suffer pain and discomfort in order to save a life and rescue patients from the connection to the dialysis machine,” she said.

Last year only 135 of the transplanted kidneys were from living donors and in 2007 only 68 were from living donors.

The report also notes a record in the number of families of people who suffered brain-respiratory death, who agreed to donate their loved ones’ organs. In the past year, in 77 of the 129 transplants performed (60 percent), the families agreed to the donation.

The organ transplant unit at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.Credit: David Bachar

“Since the Brain Respiratory Death Law went into effect in 2008 and after its implementation, as of 2010, we’ve invested considerable efforts to strengthen awareness and increase the efficiency of the transplantation process,” says National Transplant Center director Professor Rafael Biar.

“Until that law was passed, the families’ agreement rate was about 45 percent. Since then the agreement rate has been rising steadily. Things are happening slowly but they are happening. In states where the awareness is higher the agreement rates are 75-80 percent. In Israel some 40 percent of the families still recoil from surgery or taking an organ from a dear one who passed away,” says Biar.

Despite the shift in public awareness of the importance of organ donation and the rise in people’s readiness to donate, the change is still slow and has not dramatically shortened the waiting list for organ transplants. As of January 2016, some 1,160 people are on the waiting list, compared to 1,153 last year.

Some 860,000 Israelis are registered as ADI card holders. Some 45,000 of them have joined the reserve in the past year.

The center continues to give priority in transplants to people who sign the ADI organ donor’s card. According to the report, 78 patients (32 percent) who received an organ in one of the 245 transplants from dead donors were advanced in line because they had signed an ADI card. Of these patients, 44 received kidneys, 16 received a liver, 15 received a lung and three received a new heart.

A study released in 2014 and financed by the National Institute for Health Policy Research finds a large gap between Israelis’ readiness to donate organs and their agreement to actually donate them. The study, held among 695 people, finds that while 68 percent said they wanted to be organ donors, in reality only 16 percent said they had signed adonor card.

One of the reasons for this is the erroneous organ donation policy in Israel, the study suggests. It says the policy should be based not only on media marketing and strategy, but also on incentives to cooperate.

Dr. Gil Siegal, a health law professor, surgeon and chairman of the Center for Health Law and Bioethics in the Ono Academic College, who conducted the study, says the legislation and custom in Israel conveyed a weak message to the effect of “if you want to – we’ll be happy if you donate,” instead of “the right thing to do is to donate organs so that you too or your children may have a real chance of receiving an organ if you need it.”

“If a person knew he’d get an organ donation only if everyone agrees to donate, more people would be willing to donate organs,” he says.

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