A couple of weeks ago, we were fortunate to have a “guest” speaker discuss organ donation with us on Shabbat morning. The “guest” was Yael Coppleson who grew up in our congregation (daughter of Linda & Victor), but has gone on to become an expert in this area.
Here are a few of the relevant sources on organ donation:
Leviticus 19:16: “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi), Commentary on Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 73a: “‘You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor’ means ‘You shall not rely on yourself alone.’ Rather, your must turn to all available resources so that your neighbor’s blood will not be lost.”
Moses Maimonides, Laws of Murder & Guarding Life 1:14: “Anyone who is able to save a life, but fails to do so, violates ‘You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.'”
Babylonian Talmud Yoma 82a: “Preservation of life overrides all other considerations.”
Rabbi Theodore Friedman, CJLS Responsum, 1953: “Greater is saving a life than the dignity of the dead – k’vod ha-met.”
Rabbi Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, 1979: “There is no greater k’vod ha-met than to bring healing to the living.”
Rabbi Moshe Tendler, on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, 1994: “All rabbinic authorities agree that the classic definition of death in Judaism is the absence of spontaneous respiration in a patient with no other signs of life…. Brain death is a criterion for confirming death in a patient who already has irreversible absence of spontaneous respiration.”
Rabbi David Golinkin, Responsa of the Va’ad ha-Halachah of the Israeli RA, 1994: “It is not merely permissible for a Jew to bequeath his organs for transplantation following his death, it is a mitzvah for him to do so, in order to save one life or several lives.”
The Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly Resolution of 1990: “The Rabbinical Assembly affirms the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourages all Conservative Jews to become enrolled as organ and tissue donors.” (See also: United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism )
Union for Reform Judaism statement of 1997: “The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (since renamed: Union for Reform Judaism) is committed to the concept of Organ Donation and Transplantation as a positive example of the traditional Jewish value of saving a life.”
The Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America statement of 1991: “Since organs that can be life-saving may be donated, the family is urged to do so. When human life can be saved, it must be saved. The halachah (Jewish Law) therefore looks with great favor on those who facilitate the procurement of life-saving organ donations.”
Another important organizaiton that anyone concerned about this issue should be aware of is the Halachic Organ Donor Society .