Menu JTA Search

Israel Health Minister Denounces Orthodox Charge in Heart Transplant Case

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

Israel’s Minister of Health, Israel Barzilai, clashed with ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset (Parliament) yesterday over the question of heart transplant operations. Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, of the Agudat Israel, charged that the as yet unidentified donor in Israel’s first heart transplant case was not dead when his heart was removed. Mr. Barzilai called the charge an “unfounded libel.” The case came up in the Knesset as a result of three agenda motions presented after the death on Dec. 19 of 41-year-old Yitzhak Sullam, Israel’s first heart transplant Patient. Mr. Sullam, who was operated on at Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah on Dec. 5, died of kidney malfunction. His new heart was said to have functioned normally.

Mr. Barzilai said that doctors performing heart transplants were faced with two grave questions: What determines death and who is to be responsible for applying these criteria. He told the Knesset that the doctors who had tried in vain to save the life of the patient whose heart was given to Mr. Sullam acted independently of the surgical team, headed by Dr. Maurice Levi, which performed the transplant. He said that Israeli doctors shared the modern medical view that death has occurred when the brain ceases to function. He added that this was a considerable advance over the halachic (Jewish religious law) thesis that only cessation of breathing means death.

Rabbi Lorincz denounced that view and insisted that both Mr. Sullam and the person whose heart he received might now be alive if transplant surgery had not been performed. He alleged that doctors were keeping the donor’s identity secret “so that they can forge the records more easily.” Rabbi Kalman Kahane, of the Poalei Agudat Israel claimed that public opinion in Israel was opposed to transplants and therefore the doctors in the Sullam case performed the operation surreptitiously. He said Israel was the only country in the world where doctors could extract a heart without asking permission. Shlomo Rossen, of Mapam, declared that heart transplant surgery has come to stay and that Israel’s medical profession is qualified to stand the test as far as human skills and technical facilities are concerned.

NEXT STORY