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Organ Donations Authorized by Orthodox Rabbinic Group

In a landmark decision by an Orthodox rabbinical group, the Rabbinical Council of America has approved organ donation as permissible, even required, from brain-dead patients.

The endorsement, made last week at the group’s annual convention, puts the 1,000-member group, the wound’s largest body of Orthodox rabbis, at odds with some other Orthodox authorities, who do not agree that the cessation of brain function indicates death according to Jewish law.

In authorizing organ donation, the RCA has affirmed that “pikuach nefesh,” or saving of life, is of utmost importance.

The position was taken at the group’s yearly conclave, held at the Homowack Lodge in Spring Glen, N.Y., as part of a health care proxy developed by the RCA for distribution by health care providers,

New federal guidelines, to go into effect on December, will require that every health care provider make available to patients a proxy, designating someone to be the patient’s “agent to make any and all health care decisions” in case the patient is incapacitated.

The section of the RCA’s proxy addressing organ donation reads: “The saving of a life takes precedence over all but three halachic imperatives –murder, idolatry and adultery.

“Therefore, no halachic barriers exist to donation of the organs of the deceased of they are harvested in accord with the digest standards of dignity and propriety.” the proxy says.

“Vital organs such as heart and Liver may be donated after the patient has been declared dead by a competent neurologist based upon the clinical and /or radiological evidence,” it says.

“Since organs that can be life-saving may be donated, the family urged do so. When human life can be saved, it must be saved.”

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Torah of Yeshiva university, a well-known Torah scholar who chairs the RCA Bio-Ethics Commission, developed the proxy.

In addition to designating an agent, the proxy also has an optional instruction that directs the agent to consult with Orthodox halachic authorities before making decisions.

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