An Eye for an Eye, a Heart for a Heart

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I won’t need my heart, my lungs, my liver, my kidneys, or any other organ once I’m dead. They would be much more useful to someone who is still alive. As blunt as that may sound, that was all the convincing I needed to register as an organ donor when I got my driver’s license. But throw religion into the mix, and this sort of logic can get a little messy.

Dr. Jacob Lavee, head of the heart transplant program at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, tells of two ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish patients who received heart transplants in 2005. These patients told Dr. Lavee that they would never consider donating organs based on their beliefs, but that they had no problem accepting organs.

Should someone who would never even consider giving an organ be able to receive one? Should they get one before someone who is registered as an organ donor? It was these types of questions that prompted Dr. Lavee to rethink how placement on the waiting list should be determined.

While the 30-40 percent of adults in the U.S. who are registered as organ donors is nothing to boast about, a meager 10 percent of adults in Israel hold donor cards. Except for the ultra-Orthodox, most rabbis agree that organ donation is acceptable, but this message doesn’t always get across clearly to the public.

Dr. Lavee proposed several changes back in 2010, and earlier this year the new laws went into effect. The biggest change is that registering as an organ donor will give you a better chance at getting an organ, should you end up on the waiting list in the future.

The public awareness campaign accompanying this law has already led to a huge increase in registered organ donors -- 70,000 people registered during the 10-week campaign -- so it seems that appealing to our selfish nature is bound to make some people consider signing up if it means they might be able to use their status as an organ donor to save their own life. (Read more about Dr. Lavee and the new law here).

Could something like this work in other countries like the U.S., with millions of people without religious qualms who simply haven’t gotten around to signing up yet? I think it's certainly worth considering, but until then, the 114,544 people on the waiting list in the U.S. are depending on your altruism, so please consider registering as an organ donor today.

The gap between organ donors and those in need of transplants continues to widen. (Graph from http://organdonor.gov, based on data from optn.transplant.hrsa.gov and OPTN/SRTR Annual Report).

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