OperationIsrael news photo: Flash 90

An encounter in 2007 led one rabbi to begin a campaign to boost live organ donation in Israel. To date, his organization has saved 64 lives.

In 2007, Rabbi Yeshayahu Haver met a young man named Pinchas while both were undergoing dialysis. Rabbi Haver received a kidney from a friend, and had another friend willing to donate a kidney to Pinchas – but bureaucracy held up the planned transplant, and Pinchas died while waiting.

The incident spurred Rabbi Haver to create the Matnat Chaim (“Gift of Life”) organization, which encourages live organ donation and helps patients and donors cut through bureaucracy. The group has assisted in matching 64 pairs of donors and recipients.

Doctors told B’Sheva magazine that the success rate for such transplants is over 90%. Kidneys given through live donation last, on average, 5 years longer than those given after death – giving recipients that much longer off dialysis.

Dialysis is not a replacement for a working kidney, doctors noted. It extends life, but patients on dialysis must be on an extremely strict diet, are forced to spend many hours a week undergoing treatment, and become progressively sicker nonetheless.

The waiting list for a kidney transplant from a brain dead donor is approximately five years long, and many die while waiting.

The state has joined the initiative to encourage live organ donation by promising donors a spot at the head of the recipient list if they need a transplant one day. Donors are also compensated for their expenses relating to the transplant.

Between new regulations, new awareness, and Matnat Chaim kidneys given by live donors now account for half of all kidney donations, compared to 40% one year ago.

Many of Israel’s leading rabbis strongly support the initiative. Donor Rabbi Banayahu Kleimi received blessings from Rabbi Shteinman, Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef before donating his kidney to a stranger.

The religious world is known to have a more stringent definition of “brain death” than do many doctors, leading to situations in which religious Jews would oppose organ donations in situations where others might not. However, experts who spoke to B’Sheva said the religious and hareidi-religious communities lead in live organ donation.