HODS on IBA News
Robby Berman – Sept. 2007, Organ Donation & Jewish Law
[4 minutes 4 seconds]
Robby Berman -Organ Donation in Halacha
By now, you know it was a deadly holiday weekend on Israel’s highways, seven people lost their lives. But out of tragedy sometimes emerges hope. The new year saw eight people being given a new chance for life after the families of two earlier traffic victims donated the organs of their loved ones.
The organs of a 37 year old man helped save the lives of five people and the organs of a 40 year old East Jerusalem woman killed in a car crash near Ein Gedi were donated to three additional recipients.
And joining us now in the studio to discuss the issue of organ donations is Robby Berman, founder and director of HODS, Halachic Organ Donor Society.
Robby, welcome back again. You’ve been working very hard for several years since you founded HODS, and yet there still seems to be a little misunderstanding among the religiously observant community especially, as to whether or not it is permissible, by Jewish religious law, to donate organs.
Right, I think there are two main facts that inhibit Jews from donating organs. The first one is many Jews believe in a resurrection of the dead and that’s a tenet of Jewish faith. But many Jews unfortunately also believe that you need to be buried with your organs in order to be resurrected, that’s nonsense, there’s no source for that in any Jewish classical literature. Your organs disintegrate in the ground and the one source in the bible, which talks about a mini-resurrection of the dead in the book of Ezekiel, talks about the resurrection of the dry bones, it doesn’t talk about the resurrection of the dry bones, the pancreas and the liver, it only talks about the resurrection of the dry bones.
The other issue has to do with brain death; people still do not understand the difference between brain death and coma. Ariel Sharon is in a coma, he’s not brain dead. People who are brain dead do not come back to life and so unfortunately you have a lot of people, even secular Jews and secular Israelis, that pray to God for a miracle, no one in the history of the world has ever woken up from brain death. The brain begins to undergo a process called lysis where the cells begin to melt and there is no such thing as “waking up” from brain death. If people could get that into their heads, so to speak – no pun intended – I think that people would be more willing to donate organs.
So, Robby, there are no issues as far as legality as far as donating organs here in Israel?
Well people who have an ADI organ donor card, even if it’s a document, even if it’s considered a legal document, which it might be, it’s debatable, the hospitals will not recover organs until the whole family agrees. So, if you have one member of the family – if you don’t have what we call in the industry “the conversation” with your family – then they won’t take the organs and that’s unfortunate because you may have many people in the family that want to donate the organs and you could have a person who has an ADI organ donor card but if one member says ‘no way’ then that ruins the whole donation.
That was my next question to you, is now the time for people to talk about this and make the decision to donate their organs if, God forbid, something should happen to them or one of their loved ones, not at the time of a tragic accident?
In addition to which, most people go to the rabbi to ask them if the chicken is kosher, you know, when you have time to discuss the issue. When someone, God forbid, is brain dead in the hospital, you only have a few hours, maybe a few days, you need to learn, as you said, you need to learn about the issue now, you need to make your decision now, and you need to let your family know what your wishes are now so if god forbid it ever comes to that, you could save – one card – could save 8 other people’s lives.
Is your organization trying to enact any sort of legislation? I mean, in America, you can go to your motor vehicle registration when you get your driver’s license they ask you, ‘put a little check on the back if something, God forbid, happens, you can donate your organs.’ Is your organization advocating anything like this, this option?
No I really don’t believe in this issue. There are countries in Europe, which have “opt out”, which means its assumed everyone wants to donate an organ unless you sign the card that says you don’t want to. I believe that’s a bad policy. I know it’s working in a couple countries in Europe, I don’t think it’s good policy, I think it’s bad policy here in Israel. I think people are skeptical enough of the medical establishments, scared enough, I know one case in Petah Tikvah where a religious family stole the corpse out of the hospital because they were afraid the hospital was going to do some sort of post-mortem on the corpse. I think we would rather do it through education and persuasion rather than coercion.
Robby Berman, thank you very much for joining us today and telling us about this issue.