Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Orthodox Organ Donor Debate

Years ago, in my senior year in college (1991), I attended a lecture by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler, on the topic of living wills, and the philosophical discussion of quality versus quantity of life. An advisor to the American President and Dean of Yeshiva University, Tendler argued that an Orthodox Jewish human being could in fact participate in the decision to disconnect from life support, that each individual could judge for him or herself regarding the potential end of their life in this incarnation. Even in making this choice, the final decision remains in G-d's hands, whether or not you continue to breathe and function once the machines are turned off.

In fact, the RCA has accepted a halachically accepted version of a living will, based upon a previous text devised by the Conservative Jewish movement.

In traditional Jewish literature, the human body as vessel to a holy Jewish soul is not meant to be desecrated in any way, which includes tattoos, smoking, self-mutilation, autopsy or organ donation. This week, Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis in Israel have adopted the policy that not only does organ donation save lives - one donor can save between four and five people - but that it is halachically permissible, and should be encouraged among the Orthodox, who currently rank very low in the organ donation registration.

This decision has in turn generated furious debate this week among the various sects of the Ultra Orthodox Israeli leadership, claiming that brain death cannot be used as a primary criteria; and that this is simply a political move to give the religious stamp of approval for a failing government policy.

Once again, the Ultra Orthodox community chooses separation and closure over integration and cooperation, choosing to see anyone outside their community as an "other." Thus allowing them to continue their disrespect of their fellow man - Jewish or Gentile - under the illusion that in order from them to be right, everyone else must be wrong, because G-d must like them better.

Perhaps we should gain more insight and inspiration from the parents living in Tekoa, a mixed community in Gush Etzion (yes, over the Green Line), whose recent choice of organ donation from their comatose baby daughter saved four lives, two of them Arab.

1 comment:

Asher said...

I'm not usually a member of the Rav Eliashiv Fan Club, but let's cut him some slack.

There are three mitzvot that override Pikuach Nefesh (saving a life) - shedding blood is one of them. It's reasonable for him to take a more cautious approach to the matter.