Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can You Spare A Lung

Postmortem organ donations seem like a thoroughly altruistic act. However, from a Jewish perspective, there are certain other issues that must be taken into consideration:

1) Is the donor dead? This may seem like a bizarre question. But, by whose definition of death has the person been declared dead? Organs are often harvested from the “brain-dead” donor - when the donor’s brain shows no signs of activity - because many of the organs that are sought for donation must be removed from the donor while the heart is still pumping. Many Jewish authorities, however, define clinical death as cessation of respiration. According to these authorities, the doctor might be killing a living donor in order to harvest the organ.

2) How is the organ going to be used? Is there an immediate need for the organ to save a life? If so, then there is no question that an organ may be used (assuming the donor is halachically deceased). Often, however, organs are harvested and kept for organ banks (waiting for a donor) or for research. This is problematic according to Jewish law, which normally requires the entire body to be buried.

Because of the complexity of these laws, it is suggested that those who wish to donate their organs should consult with their local rabbi or stipulate in their living will that, should such a situation occur, their rabbi must be consulted.

1 comment:

JB said...

Most people incorrectly believe there are organ banks. Besides skin and cornea no organ can be preserved in banks. All organs, heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas etc must be transplanted from 4 to 48 hours. More than 6,000 Americans and 100 Israelis die every year waiting for organs so there is always a need for organ donation.

Also, while there are rabbis that view a beating heart as a sign of life, there are many that don't view it as automatic pump that is still functioning only because it is artificailly receiving oxygen. No one has ever 'woken up' from brain stem death. These rabbis believe once the person is brain-stem dead the person is dead and the organs should be donated for transplantation to save lives.

Some of the rabbis that accept brain-stem death as death are the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Rav Dovid Feinstein, etc.

You can see video interviews with some of these rabbis at www.hods.org the website of the Halachic Organ Donor Society.