Organ Donors in Israel

A few months ago, we invited Robbie Berman of the Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS) to give a talk in our community.  His focus was on explaining why it is allowable for a jewish person to donate organs after brain stem death.   The talk was exciting and interesting and generated a lot of positive discussion.  During our Thanksgiving Anniversary dinner, we signed up 40 people for organ donor cards!

Unfortunately, there is another side to this story.  Everyone who showed up to the talk had an anglo-saxon (english speaking) background.  Everyone who signed the card has the same background.  We made no inroads what-so-ever in the Israeli born population of our community.

One of my neighbors decided to try and make a difference.  She talked to Robbie and to me about doing a signup drive for the whole community.  After discussion, we agreed that the first place to go was to get the agreement of our community Rabbi.  We respect his positions and see his involvement as critical to breaking into the Israeli born culture.

Today we met with the Rabbi and learned another reason why you should not sign donor cards in Israel.  The Rabbi agreed that this was an important issue, but he was concerned about how the decision is made that the donor is legally dead.  From his perspective, the medical establishment in Israel is untrustworthy.  Because of pressures (academic, social or otherwise), these doctors will be tempted to jump the gun and declare a person dead before their time.  The only reasonable approach is to have a religiously acceptable oversight committee make the decision on the stop.  Since such a committee does not exist, one should not sign a donor card. QED.

To say that I'm disappointed is an understatement.  My insight from our discussion is the massive culture gap between those born and raised in the United States (or England) and those born and raised in the Middle East.  I have an instinctual trust for the medical and legal institutions.  In my world, Doctors try their best to save patients and are ethical, responsible people.

For those born in the Middle East, there is no trust.  There is a cynical belief that everyone is out only for their own interests.  Here's a story that epitomizes this belief. 40 years after Israel's first transplant, donor's family reveals dark secret.  The story is that the first organ transplant in Israel occurred without the knowledge or agreement of the donors family and, it goes without saying, without oversight.  After reading this kind of story, is it any wonder that there is no trust?

As Anglo's, I feel that we have a responsibility to change the system.  The first step to making a change is to be trustworthy and ethical.  If you yourself do not live up to these standards, then how can you expect others to do the same.  In Israeli culture, this applies at all levels.  Our politicians need to lead the charge, not be stuck in the dark ages, where everyone is corrupt or corruptible.  Our medical establishment needs to be squeaky clean (and here, I have no personal experience of any "unclean" doctors).   Our religious leadership needs to be above reproach.

Today is one of those days that I am ashamed to be living in Israel.


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