L’Chaim – To Life…writes Michael Kuttner

December 5, 2014 by Michael Kuttner
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Everyone recognises that good health, no matter at what age, is a precious gift.

Michael Kuttner

Michael Kuttner

We usually do not think about it unless sickness strikes us personally or someone close to us. It is at times when we face ill health that the real meaning of the ancient Jewish wish of L’Chaim resonates. Illness, unfortunately, is no respecter of age and access to excellent health care is also a matter of luck. Depending on where one resides can more often than not determine whether one receives top class, affordable, treatment or whether one is fated to go on a long waiting list and receive sub standard care.

Israel, a country beset from its very re-establishment by wars and delegitimisation, has nevertheless managed despite every obstacle and difficulty, to provide its citizens with a first class health system. Not only has that been achieved, but over 66 years this country has become a world innovator in medical techniques, medication and procedures. Our surgeons, doctors and researchers continue to trail blaze cutting edge treatments. At the same time, local patients benefit from trials of new drugs which promise to cure and alleviate many of the afflictions which cause such misery and trauma.

In September of this year, a news item appeared in one of New Zealand’s leading newspapers concerning the son of All Black rugby player, Cory Jane. Apparently Cory and his wife were considering moving to the United States because marijuana or cannabis treatment for their 8-year-old son who suffers from epilepsy is not legally available in New Zealand. The use of these two drugs for medicinal purposes which can help conditions like this is not possible in New Zealand at present but is available in certain States of the USA. While the NZ authorities dither over this subject, Israel by contrast, like in so many other aspects, is ahead of the field.

This country is a world leader in medical marijuana research and moreover recent legislative changes has made the provision of marijuana and cannabis for medical purposes much more accessible.

Doctors from all over the world, including the U.S., arrive in Israel to research cannabis’ wide-ranging medical properties. Current studies are looking at cannabis’ use in the treatment of basal-cell carcinoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia and Crohn’s disease.

Israeli children suffering from severe and frequent epileptic seizures and whose medication has proven ineffective are now eligible for medicinal cannabis. Doctors will study and monitor these children to see how effectively the drug inhibits seizures.

An equally exciting development has also just been announced.

A government-backed Israeli startup has developed the first device of its kind to administer cannabis as a pharmaceutical. This medical device enables the patient to inhale metered doses of vaporized cannabis granules. Pilot testing of the inhaler will start in hospitals around the country shortly. A home version of the device is expected to go on the market sometime in 2015.

Some 20,000 Israelis today take doctor-prescribed cannabis, and Israel is at the forefront of research and development in this field.

According to experts, the number of authorizations for medical marijuana could reach as high as 40,000 in the next five years.

This is only one aspect of how Israeli innovation and forward thinking is benefitting citizens and in due course hopefully also millions of others all over the world. Complimentary medicine incorporating acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and homeopathy is standard fare today in major Israeli hospitals where experts in these disciplines work hand in hand with their colleagues practicing conventional treatments. The bottom line is that this country is not afraid to pioneer revolutionary and possibly life saving concepts which benefit all Israelis. Those who advocate boycotts and divestment need to be reminded of these plain facts and encouraged to practice what they preach. After all, we do not want them to be contaminated by Jewish Zionist expertise.

Another incident the other day brought home how fortunate we are to be living in a country which values its citizens’ health so highly. One of our neighbours, a relatively young man, unfortunately has contracted a form of leukaemia which a few years ago would have been untreatable. He contacted the top world expert in this field who happens to be in London in order to ascertain whether he should travel to the UK in order to receive the best available treatment. When this specialist heard that my neighbour was living in Israel, he replied that there was no point in traveling to the UK because the other two top doctors in the world, besides himself, who dealt with this disease, were at the two main hospitals in Jerusalem, Shaare Zedek and Hadassah. He is now undergoing treatment here, all of which by the way is fully covered by his health fund, one of several which provide comprehensive health care for every citizen.

We cannot always choose where to live, although for all of us who have made Israel home, our conscious decision to do so has certainly proven worthwhile. Despite the mayhem which often seems to envelop Israel and the serious economic challenges which always loom, in the overall scheme of things we are still blessed to be living in a country where ‘’ l’chaim “ is not only a salutation but is in reality a fact of life.


Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.


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