Israel is set to outlaw trafficking in human organs

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 29 November 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:1117
  1. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
  1. Jerusalem

    A decade after Israel's health ministry first began preparing it, a bill that will make it a criminal offence to sell human organs for transplantation or to act as an intermediary in such transactions is due to be passed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The bill, which prohibits trafficking in human organs in Israel and by Israeli residents abroad, was approved in committee for its final readings in the full assembly.

    Traffickers—but not donors or recipients in illegal transactions—will get three years in prison or a fine equivalent to $50 000 (£24 000; €34 000).

    Legislators hope that the law will put an end to the organ sale scandals in which some Israelis have been involved. For various reasons 54% of Israelis of all religions refuse to allow organs of dead relatives to be donated; and organs are taken from or donated by fewer than 10 in every million residents each year (cadavers and live donors), putting Israel 33rd of 50 countries in terms of organ donation, says a European Union and World Health Organization report. More than 1000 Israelis are currently waiting for a transplant.

    The law will give priority in receiving organs to people who have also signed a donor card and to those who have consented to allow organs of their deceased relatives to be taken.

    As for organs from live donors, the law will encourage altruistic donations through financial compensation, paid by a recognised organisation, for loss of work time but not for pain. The amount is expected to average around $4500. Donors may also be given tax benefits and special insurance, as well as gifts from various organisations that want to encourage transplantations.

    Arye Eldad, the Knesset member who heads the subcommittee that held the discussions on the bill and a former maxillofacial surgeon at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Medical Centre, said that the bill “deals with the serious shortage of transplant organs and the unforgivable phenomenon of organ sales.

    “The main dispute was over the size and type of financial compensation for the live donor. I was persuaded that the donor must be compensated, but [the amount] must be reasonable and not encourage the economically disadvantaged to sell parts of their bodies.”

    But although eight members of the committee voted in favour of the bill, two members from left wing parties voted against it on the grounds that “even for $4500, some poor people will be willing to sell their organs, and it will be organ trafficking under the aegis of the government and the law.”

    Hospital committees will supervise the process of live donation to ensure that the donors are mentally and physically fit and that no money passes between them and the recipients. The health ministry's director general will have the ultimate authority to approve such arrangements.

    The health minister, Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, said that the bill will “significantly advance” organ donations while at the same time eliminating morally objectionable trafficking in organs.

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