Ask The Rabbi

Donation of Organs

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Donation Of Organs

Rhoda B. Kabak writes:

Why are we not allowed to donate our organs after death? My friends and I are interested in the basis for this. Would this not be considered a mitzvah if it ultimately saved a life? Thank you for this opportunity to learn from home!


Dear Rhoda,

According to Jewish law one is forbidden to mutilate a lifeless body, derive any use or benefit from the use of a cadaver or to delay the interment of any part of a corpse. If, however, there is an immediate possibility of saving someone's life, these prohabitions would be overruled, and not only would one be allowed to donate our organs after death, it would even be a mitzvah.

That's the theory. In practice the issue is complicated by the fact that we must be certain that the patient is actually dead before his organs may be removed. According to Halacha, death is determined by a cessation of biological functions as can be determined by external senses. This means: No breathing, no heartbeat, etc., and that the body can no longer be restored to function as a living organism. If the success of the transplant requires that the person's heart be working when removing the organ to be transplanted, the transplant would be forbidden according to Halacha.

In the first paragraph we wrote that if there was an 'immediate' possibility of saving someone's life, one would be obligated to donate organs after death. According to The former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, however, even if we do not know of a specific emergency, it is permitted to donate organs or blood to donor banks provided that there is a 'reasonable certainty' that they will eventually be used in life-saving operations.

Sources:

  • Nachum L. Rabinovich - What is the Halachah for Organ Transplants?, Jewish Bioethics, edited by Fred Rosner and J. David Bleich, Hebrew Publishing Company.
  • Fred Rosner - Organ Transplantation in Jewish Law, ibid.
  • J. David Bleich - Establishing Criteria of Death, ibid.


 
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