Reprinted with permission from
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
While halachic [Jewish legal] debate still surrounds the donation of some organs, there is growing consensus that donating organs is not only permissible within Jewish law, but fulfills the positive imperative to save a life.
Several new educational initiatives have emerged in the Jewish community to spread that idea and to counter a very disturbing fact: The Jewish community has one of the lowest rates of organ donation among ethnic groups. For despite rabbinic decisions, at a grassroots level, there persists in all segments of the Jewish community—traditional and liberal—a reluctance to discuss the topic, and an assumption that Judaism forbids organ donation.
Twelve people die every day waiting for an organ. There are currently about 68,500 people on the waiting list of the United Network of Organ Sharing, and that number is expected to quadruple in the next few years, according to the Division of Transplantation of the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services. In 1998, about 5,800 people who died donated organs and tissue—about a third of the number of potential donors. An additional 4,300 people were living donors, mostly of kidneys. One cadaver can supply a heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, intestines, cornea, skin, bone marrow and connective tissue. Some of those on the waiting list can survive for several years without a transplant. Many will die waiting.
The situation has been particularly dire in Israel, where donation was chronically low, and Israel was consistently a net drain on the European organ sharing network, endangering the Jewish state’s status in the network. Israelis have often had to travel abroad to procure organs. The situation has recently taken a turn for the better, as several major rabbis, most recently Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, declared it not only permissible but a mitzvah to make your organs available. Still, Israel’s remains among the lowest rates of organ donation in developed countries.