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Organ Donation

Organ Donation



I am filling out my driver's license forms and have a question: What is the Jewish view of organ donation? I have heard there are issues with it. But I thought saving a life is the greatest thing one can do. So what's the story?


Judaism holds life as being sacred. For this reason, donating an organ to save a life is one of the highest act of virtue one can do. But sometimes, precisely because life is sacred, organ donation is problematic.

Sometimes, precisely because life is sacred, organ donation is problematicJewish law distinguishes between donating organs during your lifetime and organ donation after death. While you are alive, to donate an organ that you can live without, like a kidney, or parts that will replenish themselves, like bone marrow or blood, in order to save or vastly improve another life is one of the greatest acts you could do.

In theory, the same should apply to donating organs after death. Being that saving lives overrides almost any other moral concern, the opportunity to do so after our death should be not only acceptable but even obligatory. So for example, though the Torah commands us to be buried whole, this command would step aside for the greater command to save lives.

But in practice, consenting to have your organs removed after death presents some heavy problems.

It is forbidden to tamper with a corpse in any way unless it is in order to directly save a life. But when you sign a consent form to have your organs removed, not all of those organs will necessarily be used for an immediate transplant. They may be used for research, or stored away, or even discarded if not needed. Jewish law only allows organ donation if it can be ensured that the organs will indeed be used to save lives.

But there is a much more serious concern. To be usable in a transplant, most organs have to be removed while the heart is still beating. But Jewish law maintains that if the heart is still beating, the person is still alive. The moment of death is defined as when the heart stops. So to remove organs from a brain dead patient while the heart is still beating is tantamount to murder.

While the medical and legal world has accepted brain death as a new definition of death, the vast majority of experts in Jewish law have not. To tamper with the definition of death is to start on a path that can lead to major ethical problems.

This is a life and death question. We need higher wisdom to guide us...Imagine a case where 89 year old patient X is partially brain dead and, according to the doctors, certainly going to die. Patient Y in the next bed, aged thirty five, urgently needs a heart transplant. Why not pronounce X dead now rather than risk losing both patients? It may sound reasonable, but it is taking one life to save another. For those who see life as sacred, this is unconscionable.

Some countries offer an option to give consent to organs being removed on condition that a rabbi is consulted beforehand, who will ascertain that they will only be removed after absolute death and be used only to save lives. In countries where no such option exists, we don't consent to the removal of organs after death.

This is a life and death question. We need higher wisdom to guide us. I wouldn't want to have to decide what is right and wrong based on my own subjective opinion and feelings. Thank G‑d we have the Torah to give us clarity in these ultimate issues.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
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Discussion (23)
February 11, 2016
I have always felt like organs being used for study were saving lives, because they are teaching medical students and doctors skills that will enable them to help others.
October 15, 2015
Cardiac Death?
I think Anonymous you are mistaken. Most organs are taken from people who are died as confirmed by the death of their brain. Their heart is kept pumping through artificial means (respirator, medication, etc).

For more medical and halachic information I recommend you go to the website of the Halachic Organ Donor Society.
Robby Berman
October 15, 2015
Clarification about organ donation
Just wanted to correct some misconceptions about Organ donation. Donation is only done when the person is considered what is known as "cardiac death" meaning the heart is no longer beating. The organs are harvested within one hour. Also a person who decides to donate organs has the option to refuse where the organs can go. Meaning they can refuse to use their organs for research purposes. As long as a jewish person confirms and sets the guidlines for their donation it is acceptable according to halacha and is considered a mitzvah.
July 7, 2015
Re: S(science?)
Without getting into the whole debate about the definition of death from a halachik perspective, what I believe the Rambam was referring to are things that are definite and provable, not theories or even definitions that were decided upon.
July 2, 2015
The Rambam said that if there is a conflict between science and Torah, we must re-interpert the Torah. The scientific community has changed the definition of 'death' to be about the brain and not the heart. Shouldn't this allow for organ donation in the case of brain death?
August 11, 2014
Re: Ok to accept an organ
There is no question that one can accept an organ, and that if one is need of an organ, that another may donate it. The problem addressed here is that at times organs are harvested for reasons other than to save a life, or where the act of harvesting may constitute taking a life. As to the results of religion, I cannot speak for other religions, only for the Torah. But I always find it interesting that religion is blamed for human conflict, instead of human nature. Religious people are no more contentious than non-religious people. In the case of the Torah, we are taught that one need not be Jewish to be close to G-d, as non-Jews are bound only by the basic laws of human civilization encapsulated in the Seven Noahide Laws.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
July 30, 2014
Ok to accept an organ but maybe or maybe not to donate one?
So let me get this straight no where does it say you cant accept an organ just the confusion on whether or not you may donate one. I am a post heart transplant patient and not a day goes by that I do not feel worthy of such a gift. But since the transplant my epiphany is religion in general. I have no doubts of God just religion and or all its different beliefs never was it its God's will to or desire for us to turn on each other as we do. So shame on us and religion for making so many believe its OK to harm another one in the name of God
June 26, 2013
I am listed for an organ transplant that will certainly prolong my life. Chances are the donor would be a very righteous gentile. I certainly I am grateful for this gift,but would not want it if it was considered murder to procure. Lets not be hypothetical. Are there prayers for this anonymous donor, them being brain or heart dead?
June 25, 2013
No matter one's opinion, you can sign up for a halachic donor card!
Even if you follow the opinion of Rabbi Moss that brain death is not halachic death (I personally follow this opinion, as it is the position of my rebbeim), you can get a halachic donor card that expresses your wishes. It's a good idea no matter what; you appoint a rabbi who will be consulted in case of emergency, and you have a way of expressing your wishes.
Ariel Caplan
New York, NY
June 16, 2013
Are there any prayers within Jewish faith of gratitude to a donor who's generosity has saved ones life?