According to Matnat Chaim (Gift of Life), an Israel non-profit that encourages kidney donations from a living person, Israel is today in first place in the world in altruistic kidney donations, with 2020, the year of the Corona, seeing the highest number of transplant ever. On April 4, Israel will reach its 1,000th kidney transplant, with a cross-over transplant at Beilinson Hospital, and two other altruistic kidney transplants on the same day at Tel Hashomer and Hadassah hospitals.
In the cross-over kidney transplants, patients whose own family members cannot donate to them for immunological or other reasons, are given a kidney from a family member of another patient in exchange for their relative’s kidney.
Publications on altruistic kidney donations worldwide start in 2013. Previously no one was keeping orderly lists, but according to recent statistics, no country in the world has reached Israel’s number of 1,000 kidney donations within 11 years. In the UK, population 60 million, there have been only 130 altruistic kidney donations over the past eight years.
Indeed, the rate of Israeli altruistic kidney donations compared to the rest of the world is astounding: according to the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, the world average rate of kidney donations per one million people is 8.53; in Europe it is 5.88; in the US it is 15.81; and in Israel it is 31.28.
Incidentally, in Israel, the community with the highest rate of kidney donations is the Susya settlement on Mount Hebron, where, according to the locals, when you walk into the grocery store in Susya you have to apologize for not donating a kidney.
Yitzhar, in Samaria, is also way up there, with—out of 1,600 residents—10 who have donated their kidneys, often to complete strangers, over the past five years (The Ultimate Givers of Yitzhar).
And then there’s the Eli pre-military yeshiva in Samaria, where four teachers donated their kidneys. By the way, in 2020, 23 Eli graduates finished the IDF officers school.
The profile of the average Israeli donor: a Jewish man, age 25-40, National Religious, engaged in a profession related to education, highly motivated, and in a good relationship. Women also contribute, but most prefer to wait until after their childbearing age.
Clinical Transplantation in June 2020 published the result of a study by Paulina Kurleto, Agnieszka Skorupska-Król, Elżbieta Broniatowska, and Katrina A. Bramstedt (Exploring the motives of Israeli Jews who were living kidney donors to strangers) that once and for all refuted the myth that Jews do not support organ donation. In fact, according to the authors, the Jewish high level of altruism and positive experience with donation has propelled the practice of non-directed donation in Israel.
According to the study, “Non-directed living donors are individuals who donate a kidney to a recipient with whom they have neither a genetic nor emotional relationship. Israel legalized this type of donation in 2008. After this law was implemented, living donations significantly expanded.”
The authors distributed online questionnaires to 180 Jewish kidney donors—with the help of Matnat Chaim, with 115 responses received (69.3% response rate). The motivation for most donors (60%) was a strong willingness to help and a desire to do good. The majority of donors (78.3%) reported their health status as unchanged after donation. Altogether, 16.5% experienced clinical problems (eg, wound infection, more pain than expected), and 5.2% experienced psychological complications. About 18% reported their health to improve after donation. Most (80%) inspired someone else to also become a kidney donor.
Prof. Eitan Mor, Director of the Transplant Unit at Sheba Hospital and one of the first to perform kidney transplants in Israel, told Ynet last month (ישראל ראשונה בעולם בתרומות אלטרואיסטיות – ואיך כל זה קשור לדת): “These contributions stem from religious motives. Around the world, too, a high percentage of donors are evangelical Christians. In our country, 98% of the donors are national-religious and a few are Haredim. I look at this community, many of whom live in the settlements, the people of Greater Israel, modern Zionists – they are really by faith and the urge to do good. They keep the highest mitzvah in Judaism, which is saving lives.”
According to Prof. Mor, “the percentage of secular donors in the country is small. There is a secular association in Israel for kidney donations but the numbers there are significantly lower.”
Menachem Katzburg, a recent kidney recipient, told Ynet he believed the high rate of donations in Israel “stems from an education that promotes giving and thinking about the other from a very young age. The entire Haredi Jewish DNA is based on altruism.”
Katzburg related: “Some time ago I received an email with a questionnaire on altruism from a Polish doctoral student who was trying to persuade the government there to allow altruistic organ donations. Among other things, I was asked to rate how altruistic I am, from one to ten. There were questions there like, when did I last help someone push a stuck car, or stop the elevator door for another person. If there are people for whom it’s considered altruistic to hold an elevator door – they are very far behind us.”