Israeli Organization Leading Faith-Based Kidney Donations

June 14, 2018

4 min read

“Worldwide we are seeing a gradual fall in the availability of organs, including kidneys,” doctor of nephrology and internal medicine Walter Wasser, MD FASN, told Breaking Israel News.

In the recently published BMC Nephrology research article, “Emergence of an Israel faith-based community organization facilitating live donor kidney transplantation,” he and Professor Geoffrey Boner, former Head of the Department of Hypertension and Kidney Diseases at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, showed that despite excellent results of living kidney donation, the annual number of living kidney donors is declining in many countries, including the US.

“In Israel, a non-profit organization, Matnat Chaim (“Gift of Life”), a faith-based initiative, has emerged as a major force for arranging living donor kidney transplantation mainly by facilitating altruistic living unrelated donor transplantation,” their research stated.

Noted the study, “The 2014 Consensus Conference on Best Practices in Living Kidney Donations recognized live donor kidney transplantation as the best treatment for late-stage kidney disease, yielding superior graft and patient survival, improved quality of life, fewer requirements for dialysis and increased cost-effectiveness compared to deceased donor kidney transplantation.”

Since the organization’s inception in February 2009, a retrospective review of the records of live kidney donations facilitated by the Matnat Chaim organization and Israel transplant centers was performed and compared to published data from the Israel Ministry of Health. The review found that since Matnat Chaim’s founding until the end of 2017 it has facilitated 494 live kidney donations. Of the 124 live kidney transplants performed in 2016, 111 (90%) were shown to be altruistic and unrelated. This large number of donations was associated with a doubling of the total number of kidney transplantations, performed in Israel.

“In the religious community, it became obvious from the data that the risk of donating is quite low (0.3% attributable risk for eventual kidney failure after kidney donation), so it was judged as a big mitzvah (good deed or commandment) to donate a kidney,” Dr. Wasser told Breaking Israel News. “That changed the view in the religious world about donating a kidney.”

Concluded the report, “The success of an Israel community organization in the promotion of kidney transplantation may serve as a model for other religious and non-religious communities worldwide.”

“Jewish law and Jewish custom have helping others as a very fundamental thought,” Judy Singer told Breaking Israel News.

Singer donated a kidney in late 2013 and has been working for Matnat Chaim for nearly four years as a fundraiser. “This is the way God wants us to act – to find out where we can help each other, and make the world a better place,” she said, adding, “In Judaism its called tikkun olam, repairing the world, and doing what we can to make things better for others.”

There are few faith-based, non-profit kidney transplant organizations reported globally, and the only other similar organization Singer knew about is one in New York called Renewal (established around the same time as Matnat Chaim), which she said is a “smaller but similar organization run by religious Jews.”

“It’s not just religious Jews leading these efforts, but also religious Christians,” maintained Singer. “It’s an interesting phenomenon of the correlation between faith and this particular act, which occurs in the context of a value system that includes giving and generosity, and thinking about other people as a given. The population that has a personal tradition of helping others largely corresponds to religious community.”

Singer related the words of the director of Matnat Chaim, who reportedly said, “I have never met a kidney donor for whom that was the first good deed he ever did in his life.”

While Singer maintained that it is largely religious people leading this phenomenon, she added, “it is certainly not only religious people who are doing this, they do not have less developed ethical systems and I am confident that if non-religious people saw our educational material they would donate as well, as altruism is not only a Jewish value but a humanitarian and moral one.”

According to Singer, the altruistic act not only saves another person’s life, it changes the donor’s life as well: “The donor benefits from it as much or more than the recipient,” she said.

“I know this from my own experience and dozens of other kidney donors – they feel they got more than they received. The way this one act upgrades your life is quite extraordinary, and almost unbelievable. You really feel you’ve done something amazing, you’ve helped a person to an extent that most people don’t get to do. You save a life and that’s an amazing privilege that changed my life in many ways.”

Singer maintained that the desire to help another person is associated with the Biblical commandment stated in Leviticus 19:18, which is also embodied by Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and popularly known as the Golden Rule:

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am Hashem.” (Leviticus 19:18)

“Every time you’re giving someone a hand, you are fulfilling this value and kidney donation is a slight extension of that idea. I really believe that when you have the ability to help someone, you should grab it,” she said.

In the same way that people with money donate to the poor and people with time volunteer, Singer related, “we don’t think of good health as something to share with others, but I’ve been really blessed with good health and it’s really an incredible privilege to be able to share it.”

Singer noted, “It is important to understand that kidney donation is a safe procedure and a low risk surgery for a healthy donor – we are not encouraging people to put their lives at risk. Only half of the healthy potential kidney donors who apply are accepted.” To demonstrate that the surgery does not change the active lives of donors, Matnat Chaim has a team of 60 runners in the Jerusalem marathon whose shirts say ‘one kidney, but ahead of you.’

She voiced her gratitude for the medical technologies that have “made this miracle seem commonplace,” as well as her country, Israel, for leading the world in altruistic kidney donations and pioneering interest towards becoming, in the future, one of the first countries that has no waiting list for kidney donations.

Singer, who sees this as a real possibility, said that it would be yet another way in which Israel is a light unto the nations. “With organ donations, Israel and the model that Matnat Chaim has brought forward can absolutely be a model for other faith-based communities around the world. I’m convinced that this can make an important change, and we are right on the cusp of it,” she said.

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