To donate or not to donate? Now that is the question

By Abigail Miller, Ladue Horton Watkins High School

At 16, when teens can finally go get their driver’s license, they’re asked multiple questions: height, eye color, weight, and also if they want to donate their body or organs to those who need it if they die.  

Donating organs is an emotional decision to make, but it can be a very important decision with Jewish and personal implications. It is essential for teens to learn the facts, as well as the Jewish perspective of this issue to determine how they will approach the question of organ donation.

More than 112,000 people currently need life-saving organ transplants.  On average, 18 people die each day because they haven’t received a crucial organ.  One person can make a big difference.

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DonateLife, which aids in helping people learn how to donate, received 8,021 deceased organ donors and 6,610 living donors in one year.  Those people resulted in 28,465 organ transplants and saved many lives.

Although there are countless benefits to the people receiving donations, Judaism has complex ideas on donating organs. Saving lives is considered one of the greatest mitzvahs, and protecting the sanctity of life often overrides other Jewish laws. For example, we are allowed to drive an ailing person to the hospital on Shabbat, so long as it is in the best interest of protecting the person. However, Judaism also forbids desecration of the body, which rabbis have interpreted and extended to translate into: the body must be buried fully intact.

Despite the notion that this is a desecration of the body, many Reform, Conservative and even Orthodox communities have decided that donating organs is a high mitzvah, and is acceptable in the Jewish faith. Even given an overwhelming majority that do support organ donations, there are a few remaining groups that believe in being buried with all of their body parts is imperative, and donation comes second to this.

Donation remains a very personal decision. The opportunity to save lives hardly seems as if it should be so confusing, Judaically speaking. When the question is asked, teens, as well as adults, seem to take special consideration into how to best approach the topic.

“I believe in donating organs after death,” Kate Rubin, a ninth grader at Ladue High, says, “Someone needs them more than I do at that point.”

Many teens seem to agree with organ donation. The mitzvah of life resonates strongly, and many seem to focus on the selflessness of the act.  One such teen is Emma Barg, a ninth grader at Ladue.

“After you die your organs have no use for your body anymore,” Emma said. “We have learned that half a mitzvah is to give and the other half is to receive.  And saving a life is a giant mitzvah. To donate your organs is the biggest mitzvah to do. So personally I am very for organ donation.”

There is no question on whether or not donation can save lives. But debate still remains so long as Jewish text mandates we should bury our bodies as they are. Teens have the resources within their families, communities and selves to answer the question: To donate or not to donate?