Police launch inquiry into kidney transplant organization
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Police launch inquiry into kidney transplant organization

Cops investigating claims that Matnat Chaim bumped patients to top of recipient list in exchange for donations

Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, founder of Matnat Chaim, speaks at the Knesset on May 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, founder of Matnat Chaim, speaks at the Knesset on May 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Police launched an investigation into an organization that facilitates voluntary kidney donations in Israel on suspicion that it traded organs for donations.

On Wednesday, the court lifted a gag order on the investigation, which has been going on for several weeks, into members of an organization that matches potential donors with patients in need of transplants.

Channel 2 named the organization as Matnat Chaim (Gift of Life in Hebrew).

The probe follows a complaint from the Health Ministry that recipients were bumped to the top of the list in exchange for donations to the organization.

Police have taken evidence from organ recipients, their families and other sources in the ongoing investigation.

A police spokesperson explained that the investigation was complex and sensitive. The organization is suspected of encouraging relatives of those in need of transplants to make donations to the organization in order to shorten the waiting time to receive a kidney.

130 Matnat Chaim donors at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, March 4, 2017. (Chaim Meiersdorf)
130 Matnat Chaim donors at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, March 4, 2017. (Chaim Meiersdorf)

Israel, like France and other countries, has organ donation laws designed to prevent trafficking. It prohibits compensation or the promise of compensation to donors by potential recipients or persons acting on their behalf.

Donors who donate their kidney through Matnat Chaim are allowed to give their organs to a recipient of their choosing or to an unspecified recipient, provided that “there is a medically suitable recipient for the donated organ,” as determined by the Transplant Center, also known as Adi in Israel.

Over 400 healthy people have donated a kidney through the organization.

The organization has been criticized by Israeli health officials for allowing donors to set conditions over who receives their kidney.

In a report aired on Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday, the Health Ministry said the policy leads to possible discrimination, noting that at least half of Matnat Chaim’s donors request Jewish recipients.

The ministry maintains the national list of patients awaiting a kidney donation.

A health official told Channel 2 on Sunday that the organization has no oversight and that it was “not clear by which parameters the organization decides who receives a kidney,” as Matnat Chaim keeps its own list.

The official said that these circumstances lead to patients who are in relatively good condition and who are on Matnat Chaim’s list to be matched with donors, while patients in worse condition “who have been waiting and have been undergoing dialysis for four years” remain on the waiting list.

In a statement, Matnat Chaim said that it was unaware of the investigation and therefore had no comment to make at this time, Channel 2 reported.

In the past, the organization has said that it had never agreed to accept donations in exchange for promoting a patient in the waiting list. It said that “it completely rejects any suggestion of any hint of wrong-doing.”

Stéphanie Bitan contributed to this report.

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