Thursday, June 16, 2011

Britain's Chief Rabbi Cautions Organ Donors

The American Journal of Transplantation reports on disagreement about what constitutes death:

"Is brainstem death accepted by Jewish law? Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth and the Dayanim (rabbis who sit on a religious court) of the London Beth Din believe that Jewish law, or Halacha, recognizes only cardiorespiratory death. After an edict issued last fall by the Jewish leader, there is concern that organ donation in the United Kingdom could be affected.

"The statement focuses on the definition of death, stating that some believe brainstem death is an acceptable Halachic criterion in the determination of death, but, “it is the considered opinion of the London Beth Din in line with most Poskim [Jewish legal scholars who decide the Halacha] worldwide that in Halacha, cardiorespiratory death is definitive.”The Chief Rabbi and Dayanim have said they were in consultation with the National Organ Donor Registry in the U.K. to explore ways to facilitate an option for Jews to indicate their willingness for donation.

"The U.K. news media have carried numerous stories about the issue, including one in the Guardian quoting concern on the part of the British Medical Association that the London Beth Din stance may restrict the number of donations available.1 Meanwhile, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) issued a statement saying: “The Halachic definition of death is a long-standing debate … and it should not be forgotten that, among others in the U.S. and Israel, the former Chief Rabbis of Israel … are proponents of the position that brainstem death constitutes the Halachic definition of death.”2

"The RCA reaffirmed its position that brain stem death is a Halachically operational definition of death and, in light of the serious moral issues and lifesaving potential presented by organ donation, they “strongly recommend that rabbis who are rendering decision for their laity on this matter demonstrate a strong predisposition to accept the Halachic view of the gedolei haposkim [Halachic adjudicators], who define the moment of Halachic death to be that of brainstem death, or that they refer their laity to rabbis who do so.”

Butt R. Doctors criticise chief rabbi's edict against donor cards. Guardian. Updated January 12, 2011. Accessed March 26, 2011.

  • 2
    Linzer D. Rabbinic statement regarding organ donation and brain death. Updated January 7, 2011. Accessed March 26, 2011.
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