Israel Took Organs of Dead Without Permission

Israel admits that it routinely harvested organs without telling families.

ByABC News
December 21, 2009, 9:08 AM

JERUSALEM, Dec. 21, 2009 — -- A senior Israeli scientist has admitted that in the 1990s Israel routinely harvested organs from dead bodies without telling families.

The revelation came from an interview with Dr. Yehuda Hiss, former head of the country's Abu Kabir forensic institute, which was broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 this weekend. "We started to harvest corneas....Whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family," Hiss said in the interview.

According to the program, pathologists at the Abu Kabir institute also took skin, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli civilians and Palestinians. They often did so without seeking the permission of relatives.

The Israeli military confirmed the practice took place but said: "This activity ended a decade ago and does not happen any longer."

The original interview with Hiss was conducted in 2000 by American researcher Nancy Scheper-Hughes who decided to release it because of the controversy surrounding an allegation in a Swedish newspaper that Israel was killing Palestinians for their organs. Israel has strongly denied the charge.

There was nothing in this weekend's report to substantiate such a claim.

Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, told the Associated Press that Palestinians were "by a long shot" not the only ones affected.

She decided to release her interview with Hiss because "the symbolism, you know, of taking skin of the population considered to be the enemy is something just in terms of its symbolic weight, that has to be reconsidered."

The accusation made in Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper claimed Israel was taking organs from living Palestinians.

The story caused a massive diplomatic row with Israel accusing the paper of anti-Semitism, and demanding the Swedes condemn the article. They refused and the Swedish foreign minister cancelled a planned official visit to Israel.