Posts Tagged ‘Religion and organ transplants’

An active blogger who is living in Jerusalem for a year recently posted about her experience celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim. In her post, she describes her experience working with the Halachic Organ Donor Society, and in reading it I learned a little about the Jewish religion’s perspective on organ donation. Here’s an excerpt from her post:

I chose to participate in an educational project regarding halachic organ donation. The issues are as follows: Rabbis who object to organ donation do not do so because a body must be buried whole (though some people do use this as their objection). Rather, they object because organs are usually taken from a person who is brain-stem dead but whose heart is still beating with the help of a ventilator. These Rabbis consider a beating heart to be a sign of life and therefore donating organs at this point would be killing the donor. What I did for my day of chesed (kindness) was to spread some education on the issues as well as information on famous Rabbis who do agree with organ donation. A LOT of Orthodox and Haredi Jews follow the thoughts and ideals shared by their Rabbi so closely that they refuse to deviate from their Rabbi’s viewpoints. Therefore, if their Rabbi doesn’t agree with the idea of organ donation then they do not agree with organ donation. Luckily, the organization I worked with, the Halachic Organ Donation Society, has great information that lists every major Rebbe who supports the organization. Also, the organization created a donor card that allows donors to choose to donate their organs at brain-stem death or after cardiac death. So, a group of us stood on the busy intersection of Emek Refaim and Rachel Immeinu to hand out information and sign people up for organ donation cards (it helped that our friend, Josh, brought his cute new puppy. Puppies are always a great engagement tool).

I will be adding a link to the lists at right to the Halachic Organ Donor Society’s Web site.


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I’m in a somewhat fragile state, wearing my heart on my sleeve and getting emotional when I see happy transplant stories in the news these days.  (My brother Joe, the recipient of my liver in 2006, has been hospitalized three times in the past six weeks, owing to an unrelenting stricture in his duct at the point of surgical connection from his transplant.  The docs have inserted a subcutaneous line to help him with drainage from his liver, a contraption he’ll likely have to wear for months while the stricture stretches back out to normal dilation. )

So it is with the most ebullient pleasure that I look to this wonderful story on the Kidney Foundation’s Web site, about Mohammad Islam’s gift of his kidney to young Evan Hubbard.  Mohammad gave his gift as part of a kidney donor chain.  His wife had received a kidney from a total stranger, so he agreed to give his to someone for whom he was a match — which became Evan.  Evan’s father Paul, not a match for his son, agreed to keep the pay-forward chain going, and in turn donated his organ to a stranger with whom he was a match, Leroy Baker.

I love the idea of these donation chains, not only because they put on display our very human desire to give back to the universe for the gifts we have been given, but also because they speak to our selflessness as humans.  I could end this post here.  Paul, Muhammed, and Evan’s story is simply beautiful and loaded with hope.

But I am awestruck and inspired by more than just the “pay it forward” angle in this story.  Based on his name, I presume that Mohammad is Muslim, which I mention only because of the following thought.  In almost three years of following living donors in the news, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a story about a living donor in the U.S. who is Muslim.  And, maybe it’s just my personal need for beauty amid my grief right now, or my post-election “high on hope,” but I am bouyed by this reminder that, no matter how many differences we have with the people around us — religion, race, gender, geographies, values, politics — we have so much in common as humans. 

In Africa, there is a marvelous concept of “ubuntu,” literally “me we,” which is bestowed to those people who become their fullest selves through their connections to other people — among people who are marked with kindness, selflessness, approachability, and compassion. 

Hindus and Buddhists use the word “namasté” to say, in one form of meaning, “I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.”

I don’t know what term, if any, Islam might use to refer to this idea of human connectedness, our humanity as one people.  But I did find this nice page that describes from one Muslim professor’s point of view the presence of humanity at the center of prophecy, for Islam and all religions.

As we ponder the grief and suffering of our loved ones who suffer from organ disease, as we consider our own opportunities to be selfless as living donors, as we encounter differences in the people around us, may we all see above all the commonalities that bind us as humans.  To Paul, Mohammad, and all living donors who either gave to a loved one, payed it forward in a donation chain, or just altruistically chose to give to a stranger, I bow to the ubuntu in all of you. Your grace and humanity lifts my spirits and fills me with awe.

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