Jews and Organ Donation

Monday, July 27, 2009

Benyamin Cohen, journalist and author of My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith, Jennifer Siegel, former reporter at The Forward, and Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, talk about the ethical debate over organ donation in the Jewish community.


Benyamin Cohen, Daniel Nevins and Jennifer Siegel

Comments [20]


Minkin, you know nothing about Orthodox beliefs. Orthodox do believe that the people who were burnt killed in the holocaust, will be resurrected at the time of the Messiah, even though they were dismembered. However, the definition of when one is considered dead is whats in question.

Jul. 28 2009 02:21 PM
Esther Nussbaum from New York City

The Halachic Organ Donor Society (HODS) educates Jews that Jewish law endorses organ donation based on the highest commandment of saving a life. Our website includes documents and videos supporting it. More than 200 rabbis and thousands of Jews carry our organ donor card.

The illegal and often abusive trafficking in organs is the unfortunate result of society's refusal to respond to the desperate need of ill people. Perhaps the current spotlight on the scandalous practixes by organ merchants will spur the necessary attention this subject requires.

Jul. 28 2009 01:47 PM
avi from NJ

Waiting for the respond of the Hospitals

Jul. 27 2009 08:51 PM

There's a group mentioned friday Halachic (jewish legal) Organ Donation Society, who has lined up a lot of orthodox rabbis in support and actively tries to increase donation rates in the jewish community and fight the misconceptions (they give presentations to jewish groups, etc.)

Jul. 27 2009 11:26 AM
hjs from 11211

great point.
and why won't god just take a kidney from some sinner who he doesn't want to resurrect? can god resurrect just a kidney?

Jul. 27 2009 11:06 AM
Shannon Kelly from Yonkers, NY

Thank you for covering this important issue! Organ donors MUST be brain dead, which means dead. One can be brain dead and still on support, keeping the organs oxygenated for a short time.

There is absolutely no chance that medical treatment will be compromised for organ donors. No organs can be donated until the person is dead. A separate medical team arrives AFTER the person is dead. The doctors and nurses who treated the patient while alive are not involved, to avoid even the appearance of conflicts.

Thanks again for investigating this issue further.

Jul. 27 2009 11:05 AM
Shaviv from Rutgers in New Jersey

In Jewish law there is a rule about preserving life; the rule says that almost any other commandment may be waived in pursuit of saving a life. The only actual prohibitions are against sexual crimes, murder and idolatry (whatever that actually is).

"Desecrating" a human body to retrieve organs or tissues, or perform autopsy, is perfectly acceptable if there is an expectation that the materials or information derived from this indignity to the dead may help save lives. There isn't much of a halachic issue except, as one of the guests said, the question of when death occurs - is brain-death enough, or must the heart stop? That's where the interesting discussion is.

Jul. 27 2009 11:04 AM
Matt from UWS

I worked a reputable Center for Bioethics a number of years ago (name withheld for obvious reasons) where I overheard a chilling discussion about whether they should blow the whistle on the practice of jumping the gun on calling patients dead so they could harvest the organs. The discussants were all credentialed doctors and PhDs and had first-hand knowledge of these practices. As far as I know, nothing ever was done.
I have no idea what the situation is like today.

Jul. 27 2009 11:02 AM
Ruth from Manhattan

Orthodox Jews also only want to donate organs to other Orthodox Jews.
That's not really nice, is it?
I'm sure other groups feel that way, too.

My group doesn't. I'm a citizen of the world.

Jul. 27 2009 11:01 AM
jess from Brooklyn

I have no problem with donating an organ while alive, as long as I feel some connection to the person in need. However, I can't help but feel that donating an organ during the death process might be disruptive to one of the most important moments in a person's life- the transition to death. Can we be sure that a person is truly dead when the organs are harvested?

Desecrating the body is a strong phrase but I do worry that we are turning humans into useful body parts rather than finding other means of healing sick organs or creating artificial ones.

Jul. 27 2009 11:00 AM

If you can survive without a kidney when you're alive, why can't you survive without a kidney after you've been ressurected ?

Jul. 27 2009 10:59 AM
Cory from Crown Point, NY

Brian -- Have you gone nuts? Harvesting organs from living people who are going to die soon may or may not be unethical, but it sure is illegal. If it ends the victim's life it is called Second Degree Murder in NY. BTW, my mother was given hours to live several months ago did not oblige. She is still alive.

Jul. 27 2009 10:56 AM
Jeanette from Brooklyn

After visiting Israel myself a year ago, I discovered that the vast majority of Jews there are secular. If the donation rate is 8% there, is this really a religious issue?

Jul. 27 2009 10:56 AM
Rabbi Josh Minkin from Brooklyn

Medically, I believe that live donors are preferred to after death for survival reasons.

Jul. 27 2009 10:52 AM
Tommy from Astoria

There was an interesting story on This American Life on a woman coordinating organ donations a while ago:

Jul. 27 2009 10:51 AM
Matt from UWS

One of the major problems with this entire organ donation discussion is that it hasn't referenced a major factor -- Jewish law blesses donation only when there is a sick person on hand. Otherwise it is considered a violation of the deceased's corpse. And when you sign a standard organ donation form you sign away your rights to determine how your organs will be used. In a specific number of cases there is a match between the deceased and the patient awaiting a transplanted organ. But there are even more cases when the organs are not suitable yet they are harvested any way for "scientific research" or for medical students' dissection. Jewish law sees a big difference between those uses and there are really no protections built in to the organ harvesting industry.

Jul. 27 2009 10:50 AM
Rabbi Josh Minkin from Brooklyn

I am a Reform rabbi whose wife had both a liver and kidney transplant. The misconception stems from a concept that many Jews particularly Orthodox have, that in order to be resurrected at the time of the Messiah, all of one's body parts must be buried along with the body or it will result in an incomplete resurrection.

Saving a life is the highest commandment as your guest said, but only if it is clear that there is a good possibility that the life would be saved. Until about 10-15 years ago, Jewish law considered transplants experimental and the law of honoring the dead took precedence. Current Halachah (law) mostly agrees that Pikuah Nefesh saving a life through a transplant takes precedence over the Kavod Hamayt (honoring of the dead).

Rabbi Minkin

Jul. 27 2009 10:47 AM
Robert Friedman from UWS

Orthodox Jews believe in organ donation and there is a whole organization devoted to this:

Jul. 27 2009 10:46 AM
hjs from 11211

20 minutes on this, really?

Jul. 27 2009 10:40 AM

Hey Brian!!
I thought the story was organ trafficking???

Jul. 27 2009 10:16 AM

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