Contrary to common myth, all Jewish denominations encourage organ and tissue donation. The mitzvah of saving a life, pikuach nefesh, is considered one of Judaism’s highest values (Hadassah – Pikua Nefesh).
In principle, Judaism supports and encourages organ donation in order to save lives. This can sometimes override the strong objections to any unnecessary interference with the body after death, and the requirement for immediate burial of the complete body.
It is understandable that there will be worries about organ donation. At a time of stress and grief, linked to sudden unexpected illness and death, reaching a decision about donation can be difficult for a family. It is at this time that halachic guidance is so important.
Judaism insists that no organ may be removed from a donor until death. Judaism insists that honor and respect are due to the dead (kavod hamet). After donation, the avoidance of unnecessary further interference with the body, and the need for immediate interment, are again of prime concern.
“One who saves a single life – it is as if he has saved an entire world.”
Pirke D’Rav Eliezer, chapter 48
Scriptural References that may be useful in presenting the Charitable Gift of Organ Donation
|Genesis 2:20-30||The first transplant: A rib taken from Adam to give life to Eve|
|Leviticus 1:7||“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”|
|Deuteronomy 30:15-20||“Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”|
|Psalm 41||Images of a healing Lord|
|Psalm 100||Psalm of praise and thanksgiving|
|Psalm 107||“consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”|
|Psalm 111||“I give thanks to the Lord.”|
|Psalm 113||Praises to the Lord|
|Psalm 116||“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”|
|Psalm 145||“The Lord is gracious and merciful.”|
|Psalm 147||“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving.”|
|Ecclesiastes 3:1-17||“For everything there is a season…”|
|Isaiah 35:1-6||“Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees.”“…the eyes of the blind shall be opened…”|
|Isaiah 40:31||“but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”|
|Ezekial 37||The valley of dry bones: “These bones shall live.”|
The Four Questions on Organ and Tissue Donation:
A Jewish Response
Q: WHAT IS ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION?
A: It is a unique opportunity to participate in the mitzvah of pikuah nefesh, on the saving of life. Each year, tens of thousands of people receive transplants. You probably already know somebody who has benefited from a transplant. In fact, you or someone close to you may need a transplant someday, because organ failure can happen to anyone at any age.
Q: WHAT IS THE MYTH ABOUT JEWISH VIEWS ON ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION AND WHAT DOES JUDAISM REALLY SAY?
A: Contrary to the myth, all Jewish denominations encourage organ and tissue donation. The major movements within Judaism have all drafted official responses advocating donations. In 1991, the Rabbinical Council, affiliated with Orthodox Judaism, declared, “When human life can be saved, it must be saved…. The halakhah (Jewish law) therefore looks with great favor on those who facilitate the procurement of life-saving organ donations.”
Q: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DONATE ORGANS AND TISSUES?
A: Organ and tissue transplantation is one of our era’s medical triumphs. It can dramatically save or improve the lives of those suffering from organ failure or those suffering from eye and tissue disease or trauma-related defects. The need for transplants overwhelms the availability. Over 97,000 Americans are awaiting organ transplants today. Typically, 17 such patients die each day.
Q: HOW DOES ONE BECOME A DONOR?
A: Becoming a donor is an important decision. Talk to your family and friends about why you are thinking about becoming a donor. Let them express how they feel about organ and tissue donation. Keep in mind:
• Becoming a donor will not interfere with your health care—you will receive the same care that a non-donor receives.
• The body of an organ donor or tissue donor is always treated with care and respect.
• There is no charge to the donor or his/her family. The procurement agency pays the costs associated with recovery of organs and tissues.
• The donation of organs and tissues is often comforting to family members—a symbolic way for life to continue.
You Can Make a Difference
Register to be a donor on your driver’s license/ID card or on the New Mexico Donate Life Donor Registry at www.NMdonor.org
www.Hadassah.org Pikuah Nefesh – To Save a Life