Arriving in Bern after two days in the French portion of the country, I visited SwissTransplant as Switzerland’s national transplant authority. While Switzerland is not in the EU, I have connections with the organization through my research affiliates at TPM and the European Transplant Coordinators Organization. SwissTransplant has made significant progress in creating a national organization in only a few years – Switzerland’s first national law regarding donation and transplantation only came into effect in 2007. SwissTransplant’s nationalization is so recent that many of the key formalities (including funding!) are still being sorted out in the legislature. They are combatting language barriers, a small net population, the “tiny kingdoms” of the 26 Swiss cantons, and cultural microdiversity in order to improve upon one of Western Europe’s lowest donation rate. SwissTransplant was my most comprehensive visit to date, meeting with over half of their full-time staff in areas of allocation, finance, government cooperation, communication, and research.
Bern, the capital of the Swiss Confederation, is the most central city in Switzerland. The legend of the city’s name claims that the founding royalty named it after the first animal killed in the first hunt from the settlement; the hunters returned with a bear, and thus the city became Bärn, or Bern (historical sidenote: this could have made for some pretty awkward town names. Who would want to live in “Chipmunk” or “Pidgeon?”). In fact, the city has adopted several bears as honorary citizens since the 1440’s in the Bärengraben bear park, a giant hillside along the river that is reserved for a well-fed family of four bears. Less-furry citizen and famous physicist Albert Einstein earned his first university lecturer post at the Universität Bern. The city also features the oldest original clocktower machinery in the world in the Zytglogge clocktower in the city center.