Israel Begins Harvesting Organs Even After Donors’ Hearts Stop
Inspiring hope among patients waiting for life-saving organ transplants, the Israel medical community is expected to launch a pilot program in which organs will be harvested from donors whose hearts have stopped beating. Until now, organs have only been harvested from donors who were classified as brain-dead, but whose hearts were still beating.
The main objective of the program is to reduce the number of patients waiting for organ donations on transplant lists. In the first stage of the program, organs will only be harvested from deceased individuals who had consented to organ donation in life, and only in large hospitals where organ transplants are also performed.
About 50 percent of the Israeli public has consented to donate organs, a percentage that has remained relatively steady over recent years. But in the last year, there was a decline in the number of brain deaths, and a consequent decline in organ transplants.
Dr. Hadar Merhav, head of the organ transplantation surgery unit at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, said, “There is a bigger advantage to using an organ harvested from a brain-dead donor [than from a heart-dead one], because there is blood flowing to the organ up until the very last minute. Without blood flow, gangrene can develop, or other types of damage, some of which is irreversible. Despite all that, when presented with the question of whether it is preferable for a patient to be hooked up to dialysis or get a kidney that will only last five or 10 years, the answer is clear.”
An Israeli Health Ministry official said, “In the event of a heart death, tracheotomy tubes can be inserted into the donor’s groin, through which a freezing agent is pumped into the body to help preserve the organs. Within a two-hour timeframe, if the family’s consent is obtained, a procedure is performed to harvest the organ.”