This past week was ‘Donate Life’ week. I recall a few years ago when a few of my colleagues and I registered for a “Halachik organ donor card” which was from an organisation based in the USA.
At the time I received many emails and messages saying that they thought organ donation was against Jewish law. Some even thought they couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they donated an organ.
Unfortunately this is one of the bigger misconceptions that people have regarding Jewish law.
At the heart of our faith is the sanctity of life and the preservation of life. In fact, to save one life is to save an entire world.
Firstly, donating one’s organs while living, organs 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.
However we cannot save a life by taking a life and therefore a donor must be Halachikally deceased before certain organs can be donated. The definition of death is the subject of debate and this is where there is some controversy and differing Halachik views. Perhaps one of the reason for the overall misconception.
Nonetheless this type of organ donation can occur successfully in accordance with Halacha and individuals/families can speak to their local rabbi who can advise how this can/should be done. There are rabbinic experts in this field who can advise accordingly and with the correct empathy and sensitivity. Of course, all views should be respected and people shouldn’t be judged for the choices they make.
There are currently plans underway for official, Australian based mechanisms to register as a Halachik organ donor, which will inform medical teams that a rabbi should be consulted before donating any organs. I’m sure it will be publicized once it has been implemented.
So as Donate Life week comes to a close, it’s a good opportunity to give this some thought , understand the great Mitzvah involved and of course to discuss any plans with loved ones
Rabbi Daniel Rabin