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David Weill
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Sensationalized news that didn’t happen: Stolen organs from dead bodies

A battlefield is not the place to attempt to expand the transplant donor pool and professionals in the field have never suggested it. I should know; I am one
Prof. Eitan Mor of Sheba Medical Center inspects a kidney from an Israeli woman, just before it was transported to the United Arab Emirates for transplantation to a patient there. (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)
Prof. Eitan Mor of Sheba Medical Center inspects a kidney from an Israeli woman, just before it was transported to the United Arab Emirates for transplantation to a patient there. (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

According to reports from the Hamas-backed Gaza Government Media Office, 80 bodies that were returned by the Israel Defense Forces to Gaza recently were missing vital organs. The Palestinian bodies had apparently undergone the usual identification process in Israel, and Hamas claims that during the process, vital body parts were taken by the Israelis for purposes of organ transplantation.

Several Turkish and Middle Eastern media outlets, including Al-Jazeera, reported the accusations and went even further to state that this episode was only one in a series of Israeli organ-harvesting incidents, though they did not provide a shred of evidence. Non-governmental organizations made similar claims, but, like the news organizations, offered no supporting evidence.

I have spent over three decades in the transplant field, most recently directing the Lung Transplant Program at Stanford University. I find these accusations alarming, though wholly unsubstantiated. We in the transplant community take illegal organ trafficking extremely seriously.

Like many people around the world, especially health care workers, I am devastated by the loss of innocent civilian lives, in this conflict and others. But seemingly in wanting to keep the narrative alive that there is moral equivalence between what Hamas has done and how Israel has responded, we now hear from the same sources that Israel is stealing body parts from people who have long been dead, including allegedly exhuming dead bodies from gravesites as a source of organs for transplantation. Never mind, I suppose, that the organs would be unusable, if something this outlandish were tried.

Under the best of circumstances in a controlled hospital environment, procuring viable organs for transplant is complicated, a primary reason being that there is a long waiting list. A battlefield is not the place to attempt to expand the donor pool and has never been suggested as such by transplant professionals.

But let’s not let the medical facts get in the way of tantalizing propaganda. Until now, no similar credible accusations have ever been made against Israel, a country where transplant has been performed for decades carefully and responsibly without a hint of any unethical practices.

Among less credible accusations: In November, the model Gigi Hadid did come under fire for claiming that “Israel has been harvesting organs from dead Palestinians for years without their consent.” She later had to walk back the statement, but, I suppose, by that time, she and the rest of the world had moved on to something even more sensational.

In fact, this story provides another example of the outrageousness and persistence of the Hamas propaganda machine, which should not surprise anyone in the civilized world at this point. That their terror message finds a receptive audience in some parts of the world — and apparently in the US as well — does surprise me though.

As a transplant professional keenly interested in the ethical practice of this life-saving specialty, I am especially aware that how a country delivers healthcare reflects its societal values. Nowhere is that more true than in the transplant field, especially when it comes to how organ donation is handled. So as I digest this latest desperate attempt at establishing moral equivalency between Hamas and the Israelis,

I’ll be standing by for the follow-up article that provides real evidence for Israeli transgressions with regard to transplantation. I have a feeling I’ll be waiting indefinitely.

About the Author
Dr. David Weill is the former director of the Center for Advanced Lung Diseases and the Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant Program at Stanford University Medical Center. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Washington Post, STAT, Newsweek, USA Today among many other outlets. He's also the author of 'Exhale: Healing, Hope, and a Life in Transplant.'
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