Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review of Lesson Two

Dear Student,

Thank you for joining us for Lesson Two of our Medicine and Morals course. The following is a brief summary of what we learned:

With the sharp rise in demand for organ transplants, medical practitioners have in recent years sought to develop creative ways to respond to the growing need. This lesson explores how Jewish medical ethics has grappled with these new challenges.

The Torah accords great respect to the deceased body. There are several halachic principles that would seem to preclude organ donation, such as the obligation to bury a body as soon as possible after death, the prohibition against desecrating the body, and the prohibition against benefiting from any part of the body. These laws would seem to preclude the possibility of organ donation from a cadaver.

However, the Torah obligation to preserve a life that is at stake, piku’ach nefesh, might trump these principles. We presented three different views regarding cadaveric organ donation. Some forbid it, arguing that once a person is deceased, the obligation to perform the mitzvah of piku’ach nefesh is no longer relevant. Others say that to the contrary, the obligation to perform piku’ach nefesh means we may harvest organs even without the consent of the deceased. A third opinion that we cited considers cadaveric donation praiseworthy, though not obligatory.

There is halachic debate as well regarding the issue of harvesting organs from people who are brain-dead. Judaism strenuously opposes any action that would hasten the death of a dying person. Because there is some doubt regarding whether brain death is to be considered true death, most halachic decisors oppose heartbeating donation.

What about the live organ donation? Would we be obligated to donate a kidney to save a life? We examined two verses that are the source for the obligation to expend money as well as exert personal effort to save another’s life. Yet one cannot be obligated to undergo risk or to sacrifice a limb in order to save a life. Should a person wish to undergo a risky procedure to donate an organ, some authorities permit this, while others forbid it. If, however, donation is not risky, all agree that it is laudable and praiseworthy to donate an organ.

We look forward to seeing you next week, for Lesson Three of Medicine and Morals when we will discuss the ethics of risky and experimental treatments.

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