Postmortem organ donations seem like a thoroughly altruistic act. However, from a Jewish perspective, there are certain other issues that must be taken into consideration:

1) Is the donor dead? This may seem like a bizarre question. But, by whose definition of death has the person been declared dead? Organs are often harvested from the “brain-dead” donor – when the donor’s brain shows no signs of activity – because many of the organs that are sought for donation must be removed from the donor while the heart is still pumping. Many Jewish authorities, however, define clinical death as cessation of respiration. According to these authorities, the doctor might be killing a living donor in order to harvest the organ.

2) How is the organ going to be used? Is there an immediate need for the organ to save a life? If so, then there is no question that an organ may be used (assuming the donor is halachically deceased). Often, however, organs are harvested and kept for organ banks (waiting for a donor) or for research. This is problematic according to Jewish law, which normally requires the entire body to be buried.

Because of the complexity of these laws, it is suggested that those who wish to donate their organs should consult with their local rabbi or stipulate in their living will that, should such a situation occur, their rabbi must be consulted.

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