Living Persons and Organ Donation

Sometimes there is a conflict between the mandate to save lives and the mandate to avoid health risks.

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Giving a kidney, on the other hand, entails major surgery. Although still safe (the risk of dying is about one per 1,000 donors), it is considerably more dangerous and painful than bone marrow or blood donation. Serving as a living‑related donor, although praiseworthy, is optional according to halacha, and only if the risk to the donor is minimal.

This issue has been addressed in numerous court cases in the United States and Israel. One illustrative Israeli case involved a young, developmentally disabled boy who was being cared for by his father. The child was completely dependent upon the father for his daily living and maintenance. The father became ill with chronic renal disease, requiring dialysis. A question arose as to whether the young man should be compelled to donate a kidney to his father because such a transplant would give the father the best chance for leading a normal life--which in turn would benefit the son.

The Israeli courts decided that the son's right to privacy and bodily integrity outweighed the "best interest" standard and refused to force the boy to donate the kidney. Similar case law exists in the United States. Rabbi J. David Bleich has analyzed this case from a halachic perspective and reached the same conclusion.

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Dr. Louis Flancbaum

Dr. Louis Flancbaum is Chief of the Division of Bariatric Surgery at St. Luke's-Roosevelt, Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a nationally recognized authority on the surgical treatment of obesity.