A New Approach to Organ Transplant Donations Could Saves Lives

Since the first successful kidney transplant in the 1950s, organ donation has given many patients a new lease on life. In the US alone, over 100,000 people are currently waiting for an organ donation, with a new person being added to the list every ten minutes. However, the biggest barrier for many of those on the organ transplant list is not a lack of medical technology, but rather a lack of available organs.

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Health’s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), an estimated 18 people die every die while waiting for organ donations. Furthermore, because a patient’s health typically declines when there is a delay in receiving a needed organ, even those that do receive organ donations typically face worse outcomes due to the delay in their transplants.

The United States relies on volunteers to sign up and become organ donors. And while 90% of Americans support organ donation, only 30% have taken the required steps to become a donor. In an effort to increase the rate of organ donations, other countries, like Austria and Spain, have tried an opt-out approach where people are automatically considered donors unless they opt out of the process. However, doctors have faced resistance from family members opposed to donating their deceased relative’s organs, so the opt-out approach hasn’t led to a drastic increase in overall organ donations.

A recent blog published by The New York Times highlights a completely different approach taken by the Israeli government that took a multi-dimensional approach to increasing organ donations. The government launched a public awareness campaign that addressed some of the primary barriers to organ donation. In addition, the government initiated a new law that would give priority to patients who were organ donors themselves. Before Israel’s campaign, about 3,000 to 5,000 organ donation cards were turned in each month; however, during the ten week period of the campaign over 70,000 Israelis registered as organ donors leading to a 60% increase in available organs.

Prior to the public campaign, Israel had extremely low rates of organ donation, in part due to the general belief that organ donation was against Jewish law because it is a means of desecration of the dead. Therefore, even though many Israelis recognized organ donation as a good thing, they were reluctant to go against Jewish law to participate.

In order to turn public opinion around, the Israeli government consulted with local rabbis who agreed that in the Talmud saving a life can supersede many of the other commandments, thereby making organ donation kosher. After the rabbis were on board, the government launched a public awareness campaign to change the way Israelis think about organ donation.

And in case just changing the way people thought about organ donation wasn’t enough to increase the number of donors, the government added an additional incentive – it passed a law requiring anyone who is an organ donor will be given priority if they themselves need an organ transplant. So while medical necessity will still remain the main consideration in determining organ transplant recipients, if two patients have identical medical needs, then priority will be given to the patient who has is a registered organ donor.

And despite its apparent success in increasing the numbers of available transplant organs, Israel’s plan is not without its critics. Some say that it carries a form of religious discrimination based on the fact that ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews are still opposed to donating organs based on their stricter interpretation of the Talmud. In addition, there are those who are generally opposed to the new system that incorporates “nonmedical” factors into the organ allocation system. So while Israel seems to have come up with a way to drastically increase organ donations, the process is far from perfect and will presumably undergo some tweaks.


Ofri, Danielle, M.D. “In Israel, a New Approach to Organ Donation.” The New York Times. 16 February 2012.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois transplant errors cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Schaumburg, Bensenville, Rosemont, Olympia Fields, Chicago Heights, Orland Park, Flossmoor, Harwood Heights, and Morton Grove.
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