A precedent-setting halachic ruling has been issued that allows Orthodox Jews to donate their organs, but only on the condition that they go to other Jews.
The ruling, handed down last week by a leading rabbi on health issues in Israel’s fervently Orthodox community, was a major departure from the community’s traditional stand forbidding post-mortem organ donations.
The decision came in the wake of the April 9 suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip that killed seven Israelis and 20-years-old Alisa Flatow, an American studying in Israel. Flatow’s father, an Orthodox Jew, donated her organs to six different people in Israel after consulting with rabbis.
Rabbi Yehoshua Scheinberger, in placing an important condition on such donations, said it was forbidden to transplant Jewish organs into the bodies of “non-believers or gentiles,” according to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot.
Most secular Israelis would not fall under the category of “non-believers,” the rabbi said.
He reportedly also said: “Clearly, it is also forbidden in the bodies of Arabs who hate Israel.”
A further condition for transplanting organs would be that an Orthodox representative sits on the committee that approves the operations, according to the ruling. The purpose of the representative would be to oversee the removal of the organs and their transplant into the recipient.
Scheinberger added that if medical authorities agreed to these conditions, more Orthodox Jews would begin to authorize organ donations.
Israel’s Transplant Association, which deals with issues surrounding organ donations, has rejected the rabbi’s conditions.
Negotiations still are under way.
Professor Gideon Marin, head of the heart surgery department at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, welcomed the decision.
But he rejected the restrictions regarding who could receive organs. “As a doctor, I reject this approach,” he told Yediot Achronot. “As far as I am concerned, a patient is a patient.”
Organ donations have been a controversial issue for the Orthodox community, which maintains that bodies must be preserved intact for resurrection when the Messiah arrives.
Rabbi Uri Regev, a leader of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, said much of the mainstream Jewish community has already accepted the practice of organ donations.