Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stepping up to the organ donation plate -- a High Holidays plea

The High Holidays -- that time when the cycle of Judaism asks us to consider the implications of our own mortality -- are rapidly approaching. This year, I ask you to consider a possible gift that can come out of your own death: the possibility of organ donation. If you haven't checked the organ donation box on your driver's licence, for example, it's never too late.

Jane Brody -- the author of the Personal Health column in the New York Times -- has an excellent story today entitled, The Solvable Problem of Organ Shortages. Here's an excerpt:

When the wife and younger daughter of Rear Adm. Kenneth P. Moritsugu of the Navy were fatally injured in separate automobile accidents, he authorized the donation of organs and tissues from both of them.

Dr. Moritsugu, acting surgeon general of the United States, calls organ donation “the ultimate act of human kindness.” But the number of donor organs falls far short of the need. As of June, 97,000 people awaited lifesaving transplants, and each day the waiting list grows five times faster than the donation rate.

People typically wait three to five years for donated organs, and each day 17 of them die.

But, as Dr. Moritsugu noted recently in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, “The shortage of donor organs is a medical problem for which there is a cure.”

At one time there was a lot of concern among Jews that organ donation would be a violation of Jewish law (as Jewish law forbids desecration of the dead body). Most religious authorities have moved past such a position. In my movement (the Conservative Movement), most authorities hold that not only is organ donation permitted but that Judaism's high regard for life as a religious value actually requires it. In the Orthodox world, however, authorities are more reluctant to give a clear green light to organ donation; they do, however, allow it in some cases where it is clear it would save a life.

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