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Organ Donation

Organ Donation

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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.

This is a life and death question. We need higher wisdom to guide us...

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 many authorities of Jewish law maintain that if the heart is still beating, the person is still alive. They define the moment of death as when the heart stops. So to remove organs from a brain dead patient while the heart is still beating would be tantamount to murder.

While the medical and legal world has accepted brain death as a new definition of death, many 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.

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 (however that is to be defined) 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 Chabad.org.
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Anonymous Albany July 30, 2017

This is another example of twisted logic. There were no organ donations when the Bible was written. To continue to interpret ancient dogma so that organ donation after death is prohibited, while stating that to save a life is the greatest gift is, plainly speaking, nonsense. I donated a kidney. It is true: it is the best thing anyone can do. It will be comforting to me at the end that, even if only useful for research, my donation upon death might spare a life. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein for Chabad.org August 27, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Re: Twisted Logic
Organ donation is permitted by the Torah, as stated in the article. Kidney donation is done by Orthodox Jews regularly. What is not permitted is a) taking a vital organ while the person is still living, effectively murdering them, and b) taking an organ for research rather than for an immediate need to save a life.

Referring to "ancient dogma" doesn't address the concern. Judaism requires a particular way of treating our dead that is respectful and beneficial for the soul. Therefore, when there is no pressing need, removing organs is not appropriate Reply

Robby Berman Jerusalem August 28, 2017
in response to Rabbi Shmary Brownstein:

Different Opinions in Halacha Should be Presented Dear Rabbi Brownstein you neglected to mention poskim that agree you can donate the organs for research such as the famous Moroccan Posek and former Chief Rabbi of Haifa Rabbi Messas.

You also don't mention that many poskim agree with modern medicine that brain death is death and agree that Jews should donate their organs upon brain death such as Rov Moshe Feinstein, Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Rav Ovadiah Yosef.

If you wish to see the tshuvos and even video interviews with them you can find them all at the website of the Halachic Organ Donor Society. There are Chabad rabbis that disagree with you, including the Sydney Beth Din with Chabad Poskim.

I respect your right to have an opinion but I think the proper thing to do is to let people know that within halacha there are different opinions about this issue. Reply

Richard Chambers Parkersburg March 1, 2017

Heart transplant David Menaheim I am sorry to say your comments need to be put back in the dark ages. I am a recipient of heart transplant and I can tell you there is NO split personality. We know from modern science our brain dictates our personality. It is true the heart does not need the brain to function as long as it gets blood and oxygen but to say there is some left over thought process from the donor is just plain silly. We transplant people do have epiphanies due to the process we had to endure to receive and live past the transplant. yes my life is different but not because of some mythical consciousness. Your writings do not sound like an uneducated person just an ill informed one or we hope not a bigoted one. Being a donor is the greatest gift anyone can do. you get to keep it as long as you need it and can help many people if you do. I am not Jewish or particularly religious but I am spiritual and believe in "God" I dont think for one moment if our times comes he going to check Reply

Juda February 27, 2017

Re: "Partial brain death" If I am not mistaken, PVS (Persistent Vegetative State) is sometimes referred to as "Partial brain death." Reply

Ben Gold NYC February 24, 2017

"Partial brain death" The article starts a hypothetical case with, "Imagine a case where 89 year old patient X is partially brain dead and, according to the doctors, certainly going to die."

But there is no such thing as "partially brain dead." The patient is either brain dead or not brain dead. There is no middle ground. The halachic view notwithstanding, medical literature and medical experts view brain death as synonymous with death. Reply

David Menaheim January 23, 2017

@ Vince

The split personality created due to organ donation in the recipient is at times overt and at other times subtle.

The latter can create any number of health issues at the subliminal, subconscious, mental, emotional and bodily levels that our naive medical doctors would take as "normal" or as ones created by the disease the recipient is suffering/suffered from, or would put it down to post-operation trauma/stress, or would attribute them to side-effects of medicines.

Anything is possible.

As for the donor - living or dead, well, his embodied/disembodied consciousness as the case is would still be attached in fine ways to his organ/organs wherever they may be and this would create a hindrance for his life conditions/post-clinical-death evolution.

So, beware.

In these extremely serious and highly esoteric mind-matter mechanisms, do not follow science whose methods, ideas and techniques barely scratch the surface - a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Best Regard Reply

Vince Down South January 19, 2017

David - as the parent of a transplant recipient, and part of the transplant community at large, I can tell you that there's no "split personality" issues in recipients.

If that were true, anyone that's had multiple blood transfusions would be mad as a hatter. Reply

David Menaheim January 16, 2017

Addendum

Besides, an organ transplanted into a recipient's body could create split personality issues, since the organ donated is habituated to being attached to a particular personality and so it could react adversely if inserted into another person's body having different personality features. This is a distinct possibility.

Remember, science knows nothing at all or at the very most very little about the origin and laws governing sentience and about how sentience is attached to matter and what happens to it after death.

So, don't follow science in these arcane and most profound matters. Reply

David Menaheim January 16, 2017

Organ donation after death is ill-conceived as science knows nothing about consciousness and it remains in the dark about the afterlife conditions assuming that consciousness/sentience is a thing that survives the death of the body. Mystics have always referred to consciousness as a thing embedded within the matter-energy fields and say that death is not the cessation of life and that the disembodied consciousness/sentience has a life of its own under conditions determined by the laws governing conscious-energy. As the consciousness is allied with the body for years until death it appears that the disembodied consciousness doesn't immediately snap all links with the corpse and at the same time even if clinical death sets in it is no guarantee that the indwelling consciousness has lifted off from the body in minutes or hours Cases have been reported of corpses remaining undecomposed for months after burial. So, do not donate any organ after death and let the body be buried whole. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For Chabad.org December 26, 2016

Re: Organ Donation (11/26/16) There is a halachic (Torah law) principle that one life may not be substituted for another life. If, in an act of self-sacrifice, one person protects others at the risk of their own life, that is laudable; however, no other agent may act in a way that will endanger one life for the sake of another. Additionally, a case where someone intervenes to prevent a threat from attacking a healthy person is quite different from where an act must be done to restore a person's already damaged health that will inevitably be fatal to another.
I am sure the comment about harvesting terrorist cadavers was not meant seriously, as we are bound by Torah to respect the person of another, even of an enemy, and not to deface their corpses against their will; this, aside from the fact that it would be terrible politics. Reply

Hamanslayer Florida, USA November 25, 2016

Organ Donation What about the incredible sacrifice of a commander who throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his soldiers? And, of course, there are other examples of a Jew sacrificing his/her life to save others.
It seems to me -- and I am not a rabbi, nor sufficiently learned in Halachah -- that the donating of organs, even at the point of becoming brain dead with the heart still beating, can be compared to the self sacrifice above. Especially when the person making the sacrifice does so knowingly and rationally in advance, as an act of pikuach nefesh.

It also occurs to me -- and I have not yet thought it out -- that perhaps we can obtain cadavers for research from the many terrorists we manage to kill in the act or in preventing it. The propagandists already falsely accuse Israel of harvesting body parts from Palestinians anyway, so we might as well put that to good use.... Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

Robby Berman Jerusalem 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. Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

juda 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. Reply

Anonymous 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? Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org 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. Reply

Richard USA 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 Reply

Anonymous 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? Reply

Ariel Caplan New York, NY 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. Reply

Anonymous June 16, 2013

Are there any prayers within Jewish faith of gratitude to a donor who's generosity has saved ones life? Reply


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