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דף הבית / English / Carrying an Organ Donor Card

Carrying an Organ Donor Card

נשיאת כרטיס

Publlished :

Jan,2011

Carrying an Organ Donor Card

Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lau

Head of the Beit Midrash for Social Justice at Beit Morasha

Today, with the conclusion of the Shiva for Avi Cohen of blessed memory, we must ask forgiveness of the family.

In the days that Avi hung between life and death, the family was surrounded and embraced by many people, including some who drew the family toward religious mysticism. When I, and other rabbis in my surroundings, heard about the accident, we prayed for the health of Avi together with all the ill and wounded, but we did not attempt to increase the family's awareness of the mitzvah of organ donation in the case of brain death. After brain death was determined, it was clear to the family that Avi's organs would be donated to save many lives. This was his explicit wish. However at that point, other elements began to influence them, in the name of Jewish tradition, to forgo this mitzvah. Despite the fact that the Chief Sefardi Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, ruled that the death be accepted as religiously valid, the family entered into a state of acute distress due to their doubts. When plagued by doubts, any normal person prefers simply not to act. Thus, the precious opportunity was lost, not only to save lives but to increase public awareness of the importance of this mitzvah.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, led by Rabbis Mordechai Eliyahu and Avraham Shapira of blessed memory, made the great value of organ donation clear as early as 1986. This was a ruling that followed the conclusions of a professional and Halachic committee, which considered the matter in depth. This ruling came into being in response to modern medical achievements. The success of heart, liver and lung transplants awakened the rabbis to the possibilities of saving lives by defining brain death as the measure of the person's state. Most of the Halachic resistance to this option came into being in the 1960s, when the percentages of success in transplant procedures were very low indeed. However, much to our dismay, there remain rabbis who refuse to join hands with medical achievements and wish to formulate the Halachic definition of death according to data that is forty years old. Another group who refuse to join hands with the medical community the mystical and Kabbalistic communities. Although they are not Halachic authorities by any means, these groups influence families of the deceased not to touch the organs of their loved one due to beliefs about physical resurrection. This is a different language, which can certainly impact people in distress, but it does not stem from Halachic reasoning. It is difficult to counteract the influence of this approach, since it acts upon hidden needs and emotions that are beyond the reach of rationality. When faced with the tragic reality of the death of loved one, this type of language takes on great force and power.

On his Wednesday morning radio show, reporter Razi Barkai interviewed a Muslim religious legal expert on the issue of defining the moment of death for the purposes of organ donation. The expert responded that all the Muslim religious leaders are unified in their position that it is a religious obligation to donate organs, but only after the death has been determined absolutely (after the cessation of the heartbeat). Razi Barkai responded: "If so, there is no difference between the Muslim and Jewish religious positions on this issue, as both do not accept the definition of the moment of death according to the cessation of brain activity". This statement is contradictory to opinions that he himself heard from various rabbis on his show the day before. Razi Barkai's selective hearing hopes to perpetuate the image of Jewish law as incapable of responding to modern medical advances. Although he heard representatives of the Jewish rabbinate express the modern approach accepting brain death as the Halachic definition, he chose to present the position of Jewish law as a backward approach that does not recognize scientific achievement.

As religious Jews, we have the opportunity to bring a message of life to the entire nation by taking it upon ourselves to carry organ donor cards. Remember that there is absolutely no Halachic problem with organ donation following the cessation of the heartbeat. Kidney, cornea or skin donations are unequivocally permitted. Blood and kidney donations, which are given from the living to the living, may even be obligatory according to some authorities, in accordance with the ordinance "Do not stand upon your friend's blood". Of course, the question of organ donation between the cessation of brain activity and the cessation of heartbeat remains open. The measure of cessation of brain activity requires maximal reliability. In the past there were those who objected to carrying organ donor cards, claiming that the Health Ministry hurries to define the moment of death in order to use the organs, and thus may invade people's bodies before their deaths. Today, it is possible to mark on your organ donor card that you require a Halachic authority to be present as part of the professional team who will define the moment of death. This change frees us from the fears of the last holdouts against organ donation, and permits us all to be actively involved in performing the mitzvah of "Do not stand upon your friend's blood".