Halachic Organ donor Society, P.O. box 693, New York, NY 10108-0693, Phone: 212-213-5087, Email: admin@hods.org

Full Interview (Part 3)

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler
Full Interview (Part 3)

[14 minutes  15 seconds]

If I can sum up the published and verbal opinions of my great father-in-law, zatzal,, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, he held halocha lamaseh. A neighbor of mine who was a Chabadnik, needed a lung transplant at a time when they couldn’t do lung transplants so they had to do a heart- lung transplant because they knew how to connect the heart but they didn’t know how to cut the lungs and reconnect it. She had a heart-lung transplant in Pittsburgh. After this whole thing the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zatzal,, who sent her to Reb Moshe and Reb Moshe approved the heart- lung transplant, declaring the donor dead. Rabbi Feinstein wouldn’t allow that kind of rationalization that the donor could be killed in order to save the life of a Jewish patient. The opinion of Rabbi Feinstein is recorded in the Iggros Moshe in the tshuva – response that he wrote to me, that didn’t concern organ donation, it concerned when can you stop the ventilator once a patient is determined brain-stem dead. There is no issue of organ donation there, the issue is simply, can you remove the ventilator and I said, “of course”. Once you can show that he’s not breathing independently, then you remove the ventilator. Here we didn’t have another motivation to save another human life, just to bury this one.
Strangely enough, one of the opponents to brain-stem death determination had the lack of integrity to make a statement in print that Rabbi Feinstein’s son, my brother-in-law, Dovid Feinstein, shlita, had said that his father never approved the brain-stem death. That went around the Jewish world, and what was missing was the little integrity of someone calling Reb Dovid to ask, “Is it so”? No one did, as at least that person did not, and kept on lecturing and publishing in print. Finally, I called my brother-in-law and said what’s going on here, and he said you know how many times we discussed this with our father, there’s no issue, he’s printed. And he wrote a letter to the opposition, which was delivered by hand, didn’t change the following lecture at a conference, the same repetition of a canard of this lie, until Reb Dovid wrote a second letter, where he stated, “My father said a person is dead if his brain doesn’t allow him to breathe autonomically, even if the heart is beating. That quieted down the rumor, but never received an apology or retraction from those people who spread the rumor. There’s where halocha is debased by lack of integrity. Behind all halachic decision is the absolute integrity of the decisor. Once that integrity is questioned, then the halocha is denigrated in the process.

First opposition came about when the statement was made Rabbi Feinstein never wrote such a tshuva [response]; that it was printed by me in the Iggros Moshe. So I responded to that, whoever asked the question, by sending him the handwritten tshuva that Rabbi Feinstein wrote. All his tshuvos on this lined paper, so you have his handwriting, no one else could do so. And then the second issue came about when someone with a – in an unconscionable way – declared that Rabbi Feinstein’s son had denied that his father ever had approved the brain-stem death. So Reb Dovid Feinstein, shlita, wrote a letter which was delivered by hand to the one who had started that rumor without much success because the rumor was repeated. Finally, Reb Dovid wrote a second letter, in which there he said “I heard from my father that the person who is brain-stem dead is dead even though the heart is beating”. That seemed to quiet down the opposition finally. And here, possibly, is just this is the picture of the lamb that was born after the sheep was decapitated.

Rabbi Feinstein received a request for clarification whether organ donation is a mitzvah from Rabbi Weiss, zatzal, from when he was the Rov in Manchester. Rav Weiss then became the head of the bais din tzedek in Yerushalayim. And Rabbi Weiss received an answer, so I was at that time invited to Manchester to give a graduation address and I delivered it by hand and Rabbi Feinstein wrote that it’s found in Iggros Moshe, the second chelik of the Yoreh Deah, the very last response to Rabbi Weiss, in which he says organ donation, not discussing brain death, but organ donation per se is a great mitzvah and should be done. To which Rabbi Weiss wrote a response, which I delivered by hand back to Rabbi Feinstein, saying that you realize families suffer great anguish over the thought of a loved one being mutilated and thr halocha is a broad principle, an umbrella principle, halocha does not require you to suffer anguish in performing a mitzvah. This is Rabbi Weiss’s response, therefore if you say it’s a mitzvah to give an organ, to allow organ donation, but the family will suffer anguish. Money you’re supposed to spend to do a mitzvah, but not anguish. Only two mitzvahs require you to suffer, that’s circumcision-milah- and Yom Kippur. To which Rabbi Feinstein answered, also published is that responsum, indeed you are correct that halocha does not require you to suffer anguish to perform a mitzvah, but don’t you realize that the mitzvah is not to feel any anguish when you save a human life. That’s the main mitzvah he’s saying. The mitzvah says don’t you be anguished, you’re saving a huma life and nothing can give you greater joy than that. Unfortunately, the organ donor card, so called, attached to the license is inadequate. It allows too much leeway. What we need is an organ donor card that specifies, yes organ donation is my will but under supervision of my rabbi.

So that, one, how an organ is removed, I’ll give you a quick example: had a question from a fellow of all places in Minnesota, who’s a baal tshuva and he’s an ophthalmologist and he just got a contract to do the corneal transplants, corneal harvesting for transplant purposes. However, being a baal tshuva he didn’t know is it permissible for a religious Jew to remove the cornea of a dead patient. So yes, halocha allows corneal transplants because blindness is tantamount to death therefore is like pikuach nefesh. I said to him, “how do you do it”? He said “I just take out the whole eye, I put it in the freezer, and then at some later time, I and others will remove the cornea.” I said, “ No you cannot do that, you’re doing more than necessary…” he said, “ well that’s how they want it”. I said, “Fine, so tell them that you can’t do it”.

A week passes by, he calls me back again he said, “no, they won’t allow, they want it done this way, take out the eye and then others can do it as well, they can remove the cornea”. I said. “fine so you can’t do it”. Got a call from him a week after that, he said, “okay, they discussed it with their pastor and he says, ‘yes, he understands the ethical point that it’s unnecessary mutilation’”. Therefore, they could remove the cornea. Just, it could take him longer, they have to pay him more for doing it, etc. etc.

So that there’s a way to take out an organ, too. A properly designed organ donor card is absolutely part of a mitzvah. It’s one thing to say, Yes, I want to give an organ and then not have the permission that is necessary to be signed and available when – G-d forbid -a person can become a donor. Therefore certainly people who want to do the mitzvah should carry an organ donor card and since after death there’s no danger to life of the donor, it becomes an absolute mitzvah. In my opinion,not a donor but an obligation. That concept of a donation is a voluntary donation. Blood transfusion when needed is life saving and someone that can be a blood donor has no choice, can or cannot, the halocha obligates him to do so since there is no risk to the donor. That doesn’t apply to kidney transplant from a live donor or liver transplant as we discussed before, but post-death, post-life, when a person has died already when there’s no danger to the donor, then absolute obligation exists. Unfortunately our rabbanim are not coming up strong enough to let them understand that just like it’s an obligation to wear tzitzis and to make Kiddush, it’s an obligation to save a human life.

Interviewer: To carry an organ donor card….

Tendler: Signing an organ donor card announces to G-d, “I’m prepared to do a mitzvah”. A good thought is treated as a good deed, so even if that person will never have to be a donor, the idea that he signed the donor card already gives him credit upstairs and nothing like credit upstairs to ward off the evil eye.

The medical community suffered a great insult in the protocol for organ donation. The protocol requires that the doctors that do the transplant cannot be the doctor that declared the donor dead. No greater insult could exist. To say I don’t trust you to declare the patient dead because I think you will take a live patient because you’re hungry and you need his organs. If that’s the kind of person that you think he is, someone that you would level such an accusation, the first thing you have to do is get him out of the practice of medicine. In my opinion, that was an unnecessary insult, meaning a shame of the profession that they allowed that rule to be established but that rule is established today. The same people who declare the person dead cannot be part of the donation, part of the surgical team that harvests or does the transplant. The integrity of the medical profession is higher than any other profession.

Moshe Feinstein, he held Halocha lamaseh. A neighbor of mine who was a Chabadnik, needed a lung transplant at a time when they couldn’t do lung transplants so they had to do a heart- lung transplant because they knew how to connect the heart but they didn’t know how to cut the lungs and reconnect it. She had a heart-lung transplant in Pittsburgh. After this whole thing the Lubavitcher Rebbe, d’tz’al, who sent her to Reb Moshe and Reb Moshe approved the heart- lung transplant, declaring the donor dead. Rabbi Feinstein wouldn’t allow that kind of rationalization that the donor could be killed in order to save the life of a Jewish patient. The opinion of Rabbi Feinstein is recorded in the Iggros Moshe in the tshuva – response that he wrote to me, that didn’t concern organ donation, it concerned when can you stop the ventilator once a patient is determined brain-stem dead. There is no issue of organ donation there, the issue is simply, can you remove the ventilator and I said, “of course”. Once you can show that he’s not breathing independently, then you remove the ventilator. Here we didn’t have another motivation to save another human life, just to bury this one.

Strangely enough, one of the opponents to brain-stem death determination had the lack of integrity to make a statement in print that Rabbi Feinstein’s son, my brother-in-law, Dovid Feinstein, shlita, had said that his father never approved the brain-stem death. That went around the Jewish world, and what was missing was the little integrity of someone calling Reb Dovid to ask, “Is it so”? No one did, as at least that person did not, and kept on lecturing and publishing in print. Finally, I called my brother-in-law and said what’s going on here, and he said you know how many times we discussed this with our father, there’s no issue, he’s printed. And he wrote a letter to the opposition, which was delivered by hand, didn’t change the following lecture at a conference, the same repetition of a canard of this lie, until Reb Dovid wrote a second letter, where he stated, “My father said a person is dead if his brain doesn’t allow him to breathe autonomically, even if the heart is beating. That quieted down the rumor, but never received an apology or retraction from those people who spread the rumor. There’s where halocha is debased by lack of integrity. Behind all halachic decision is the absolute integrity of the decisor. Once that integrity is questioned, then the halocha is denigrated in the process.

First opposition came about when the statement was made Rabbi Feinstein never wrote such a tshuva [response]; that it was printed by me in the Iggros Moshe. So I responded to that, whoever asked the question, by sending him the handwritten tshuva that Rabbi Feinstein wrote. All his tshuvos on this lined paper, so you have his handwriting, no one else could do so. And then the second issue came about when someone with a – in an unconscionable way – declared that Rabbi Feinstein’s son had denied that his father ever had approved the brain-stem death. So Reb Dovid Feinstein, shlita, wrote a letter which was delivered by hand to the one who had started that rumor without much success because the rumor was repeated. Finally, Reb Dovid wrote a second letter, in which there he said “I heard from my father that the person who is brain-stem dead is dead even though the heart is beating”. That seemed to quiet down the opposition finally. And here, possibly, is just this is the picture of the lamb that was born after the sheep was decapitated.

Rabbi Feinstein received a request for clarification whether organ donation is a mitzvah from Rabbi Weiss, zatzal from when he was the Rov in Manchester. Rav Weiss then became the head of the bais din tzedek in Yerushalayim. And Rabbi Weiss received an answer, so I was at that time invited to Manchester to give a graduation address and I delivered it by hand and Rabbi Feinstein wrote that it’s found in Iggros Moshe, the second chelik of the Yoreh Deah, the very last response to Rabbi Weiss, in which he says organ donation, not discussing brain death, but organ donation per se is a great mitzvah and should be done. To which Rabbi Weiss wrote a response, which I delivered by hand back to Rabbi Feinstein, saying that you realize families suffer great anguish over the thought of a loved one being mutilated and thr halocha is a broad principle, an umbrella principle, halocha does not require you to suffer anguish in performing a mitzvah. This is Rabbi Weiss’s response, therefore if you say it’s a mitzvah to give an organ, to allow organ donation, but the family will suffer anguish. Money you’re supposed to spend to do a mitzvah, but not anguish. Only two mitzvahs require you to suffer, that’s circumcision-milah- and Yom Kippur. To which Rabbi Feinstein answered, also published is that responsum, indeed you are correct that halocha does not require you to suffer anguish to perform a mitzvah, but don’t you realize that the mitzvah is not to feel any anguish when you save a human life. That’s the main mitzvah he’s saying. The mitzvah says don’t you be anguished, you’re saving a huma life and nothing can give you greater joy than that. Unfortunately, the organ donor card, so called, attached to the license is inadequate. It allows too much leeway. What we need is an organ donor card that specifies, yes organ donation is my will but under supervision of my rabbi.

So that, one, how an organ is removed, I’ll give you a quick example: had a question from a fellow of all places in Minnesota, who’s a baal tshuva and he’s an ophthalmologist and he just got a contract to do the corneal transplants, corneal harvesting for transplant purposes. However, being a baal tshuva he didn’t know is it permissible for a religious Jew to remove the cornea of a dead patient. So yes, halocha allows corneal transplants because blindness is tantamount to death therefore is like pikuach nefesh. I said to him, “how do you do it”? He said “I just take out the whole eye, I put it in the freezer, and then at some later time, I and others will remove the cornea.” I said, “ No you cannot do that, you’re doing more than necessary…” he said, “ well that’s how they want it”. I said, “Fine, so tell them that you can’t do it”.

A week passes by, he calls me back again he said, “no, they won’t allow, they want it done this way, take out the eye and then others can do it as well, they can remove the cornea”. I said. “fine so you can’t do it”. Got a call from him a week after that, he said, “okay, they discussed it with their pastor and he says, ‘yes, he understands the ethical point that it’s unnecessary mutilation’”. Therefore, they could remove the cornea. Just, it could take him longer, they have to pay him more for doing it, etc. etc.

So that there’s a way to take out an organ, too. A properly designed organ donor card is absolutely part of a mitzvah. It’s one thing to say, Yes, I want to give an organ and then not have the permission that is necessary to be signed and available when – G-d forbid -a person can become a donor. Therefore certainly people who want to do the mitzvah should carry an organ donor card and since after death there’s no danger to life of the donor, it becomes an absolute mitzvah. In my opinion,not a donor but an obligation. That concept of a donation is a voluntary donation. Blood transfusion when needed is life saving and someone that can be a blood donor has no choice, can or cannot, the halocha obligates him to do so since there is no risk to the donor. That doesn’t apply to kidney transplant from a live donor or liver transplant as we discussed before, but post-death, post-life, when a person has died already when there’s no danger to the donor, then absolute obligation exists. Unfortunately our rabbanim are not coming up strong enough to let them understand that just like it’s an obligation to wear tzitzis and to make Kiddush, it’s an obligation to save a human life.

Interviewer: To carry an organ donor card….

Tendler: Signing an organ donor card announces to G-d, “I’m prepared to do a mitzvah”. A good thought is treated as a good deed, so even if that person will never have to be a donor, the idea that he signed the donor card already gives him credit upstairs and nothing like credit upstairs to ward off the evil eye.

The medical community suffered a great insult in the protocol for organ donation. The protocol requires that the doctors that do the transplant cannot be the doctor that declared the donor dead. No greater insult could exist. To say I don’t trust you to declare the patient dead because I think you will take a live patient because you’re hungry and you need his organs. If that’s the kind of person that you think he is, someone that you would level such an accusation, the first thing you have to do is get him out of the practice of medicine. In my opinion, that was an unnecessary insult, meaning a shame of the profession that they allowed that rule to be established but that rule is established today. The same people who declare the person dead cannot be part of the donation, part of the surgical team that harvests or does the transplant. The integrity of the medical profession is higher than any other profession.

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