Jan 17, 2010

Interesting Psak from Rav Chaim Kanievsky: The Recipient of Organ Donation

In what could be a very monumental psak, Rav Chaim Kanievsky has issued a psak regarding organ donation. Many questions have been asked, and asnwers offered, over the years about organ donation, but what might make this the monumental psak is that it comes from a different perspective.
Instead of the question being asked, and the answer given, from the perspective of the potential donor, this one is from the perspective of the potential recipient of the organ donation.

Mishpacha newspaper reported this week that Rav Kanievsky was approached by medical professionals with the question how it is possible that it is prohibited to donate organs, yet it is allowed to receive organ donations. If it is prohibited to donate, it should be prohibited to receive, as it would be benefiting from a transgressed prohibition, and possibly assisting in the murder of someone [i.e. because you need the organ, the organ is being removed from the donor before halachic death]?

Rav Chaim Kanievsky's response was that it is definitely prohibited to use organs that were taken b'issur. If the sick person only died in the category of brain dead, not only can't they take his organs, even if it will save another Jew, but the sick person waiting to receive the organ would not be allowed to benefit from the organ removed b'issur.

This is monumental, because if it is verified, it might have to put an end to all organ donation in the frum world, or perhaps it will force a re-analysis of the whole process and force them to find a way to do it in a permissible fashion.

I wonder if this is only a problem when the donor is a Jew, and if it is any different if the organ is coming from a gentile.


  1. I would caution the readers about this "psak". As reported, it was a discussion held with doctors and not a formal psak.

    Secondly, there are many differing opinions. Rav Elyashiv and Rav Kanievsky hold that only a stopped heart is considered death. Many other rabonim hold that brain death (with a very specific definition of brain death) is considered death.

    For a better treatment of the details, you can look here: http://www.hods.org/English/h-issues/videos.asp

    As the father of a kidney recipient, I would strongly recommend learning more about this issue. The best option is to have a kidney from a live donor, and there is absolutely no halachic reason to asser this. It is pikuach nefesh and hatzalat chaim.

    Please don't let the hareidi community further separate themselves from the world.

  2. nobody is getting their piskei halacha from blogs or newspapers, for practical use. Plus, I said th epsak needs to be verified and clarified.

    Also, it is clearly not relevant to kidney transplants, but only to transplants that require a death.

    If this is relevant to anybody out there, go get a personal psak and clarification before you rely on this (just in case).

    And refuah shleimah to anybody this is relevant to

  3. I personally carry an ADI organ card - and recommend all readers of Life in Israel - in fact all Jews! - do likewise.

    There is a simple form to fill in, evenin English: http://www.health.gov.il/transplant/card_eng.htm

    The key item on this ADI card is (to the effect that) "I permit any organ to be used for saving a life, on condition that my family rabbi gives his permission."

    This way, the surviving family is comforted that it was my wish for my organs be used - and my rav has to break his head on the halachik issues of clinical death, etc..etc.. as may pertain to my specific case at that time.

    You can read more about this at:http://tzedek-tzedek.blogspot.com/search/label/organ%20donor

    Clearly, you should discuss this with your family rav prior to going ahead with this.

  4. the law was recently changed in israel such that this won't be such an issue. anyone without a donor card goes to the bottom of the priority list (with certain exceptions). meaning if someone is brain dead and there are 2 people waiting for the heart, one who signed the donor card and one who didn't, the latter automatically looses out even if according to the other criteria he may be eligible. of course if no one else needs a certain organ, the non-signer can also get. but that case is rare.

    however from a moral point of view, the rabbi's psak is right on the mark. someone who doesn't want to give, shouldn't get.

  5. 1. why does sakanas nefashos override an issue of it being taken b'issur. especially if it will then go to waste?

    just asking, not debating.....

    2. we eat honey but not the bee. w e can take but not give.

  6. As rafi said, kidneys are not relevant to this discussion. A common mistake is that pikuach nefesh allows organ donation. This is wrong! Pikuach nefesh does not allow one to transgress the "big three" aveiros, one of them being murder.
    Rav Aron Soloveitchik was of the opinion that "brain death" is not a halachik criterion of death. Yet, he was adamant that one may receive an organ from someone else.

  7. Shaya, another example - we are not allowed to plant nectarines because of Kelayim. But we are allowed to eat them.

    Rafi, why would this be any different if the donor was a gentile. Unless you say the murder of a gentile is not one of the Big Three.

    I wonder what the psak would be if someone did take an organ b'issur. What would they say - it's assur b'hanaah! Kill him!

    Then again, maybe it's only lifnei iveir if someone accepts the organ from a willing donor.

  8. agreed, i can't kill them, but the fact is, once they ARE dead, then maybe the organ can be used?

  9. wanna- I dont know if it would be different. i am wondering. I do not know if the same applies to gentiles, and perhaps the debate over brain dead or heart is less of an issue with gentiles. I dont know. It was just a thought. it might make a difference for organ donation in chu"l compared to in israel

  10. tangerines are a poor example. They're safek kilayim. Also Harchava is also only a safek issur between different species of citrus.

  11. Shaya, I meant the recipient not the donor.

    Ira, first of all I said nectarines, not tangerines. Second, I wasn't going into the intricacies of the halacha, I was just bringing it as example of something is assur to do but muttar to use once it's been done. If you want a better example, I'll say a mule.

  12. Great Post.....

    I found your site on stumbleupon and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

    Thanks for sharing....


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