What Does Judaism Say About Blood Donation, Bone Marrow Donation, and Living Organ Donation?
Judaism supports blood donation. It saves lives.
Judaism supports bone-marrow donation. It saves lives.
Judaism supports living altruistic organ donation. It saves lives.
Judaism sees saving lives as one of the greatest mitzvot (Divine commandments) that anyone can perform. The obligation to save lives can override many other commandments, including Sabbath observance. Jewish ethics, which are rooted in a sense of duty, imposes a responsibility to save a life whenever such an opportunity emerges. This is an obligation, not a choice, rooted in the verse, “You shall not stand idly over the blood of your neighbor.”
A person, however, is not obligated to endanger themselves to save others. While mitzvot may sometimes require self-sacrifice, we do not expect people to put their own lives at risk. This is part of a broader ethic that allows a person to prioritize their own lives over others. This balancing act calls upon a person to make an honest risk assessment before undertaking any life-saving action.
For the strong majority of people, blood donation is harmless. The process itself is relatively painless and blood quickly replenishes itself on its own. It is a great mitzvah to ensure local blood supply in hospitals. When a specific person needs blood and you can provide part of the necessary supply, you may be obligated to donate in that situation in order to help save their life.
Bone Marrow Donation:
Many people with blood cancers, immune system disorders, and some inherited conditions require a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant in order to live. Transplants are the only cure for some diseases. Many people die because a potential match cannot be identified within bone marrow registries.
Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room. Doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow (where the body’s blood-forming cells are made) from both sides of the back of your pelvic bone. Donors will be given anesthesia and feel no pain during the donation. Key recovery facts include:
- Typically, the hospital stay for marrow donation is from early morning to late afternoon, or occasionally overnight for observation.
- Marrow and stem cell donors can typically return to work, school and most other activities within 1 to 7 days.
- Their marrow will return to normal levels within a few weeks.
Ematai strongly encourages everyone between the ages of 18-60 to register with a local bone marrow registry. When identified as a potential match, a person will undergo further testing to see if they are a compatible donor.
If a person is a match and their physician deems them fully fit to donate:
- Many Jewish ethicists deem the potential donor as obligated to undergo the relatively-safe procedure if there is no other match for the person in need. The risks, as noted above, are fairly negligible while the benefits are tremendous.
- Others deem bone marrow donation as a great mitzvah while not necessarily representing a bonafide obligation.
Some important resources for bone marrow donation include:
Patients with renal failure are in danger of dying. Dialysis and other treatments are imperfect solutions that limit quality of life, do not fully restore a person’s health, and cannot work indefinitely.
In previous decades, living kidney donation entailed open surgery with greater risks to the donor. Rejection rates for the recipient were also higher. Given the risks to the donor and the unclear benefits to the recipient, some Jewish ethicists previously discouraged or prohibited living kidney donation.
Today, however, medicine has greatly advanced. Screening has improved to ensure that donors are fit for surgery; surgical techniques, including laparoscopic surgery, have reduced risks and recovery time; and medicines have developed to greatly increase the chance of implantation success. Long-term studies have further shown the kidney donation has minimal to no impact on the life-expectancy and health of donors. Key recovery facts include:
- Most living kidney donors will be in the hospital for three to five days after their surgery, although at some transplant centers, donors may be in the hospital for longer.
- The most common complication experienced by donors is short-term tenderness, itching, and/or pain at the site of the surgical incision.
- Donors may also experience temporary gastrointestinal upset.
- Donors should not lift anything heavy (greater than 10 pounds) for 4-6 weeks after the surgery.
- Most donors who work in an office setting return to work within 2 to 3 weeks of their surgery. Donors with more physically demanding professions generally need 4 to 6 weeks of recovery before returning to that type of work.
Kidney donation remains a surgical procedure under full anesthesia that has risks and occasional complications. The risk level is certainly within reason but we cannot obligate a person to undergo such a procedure. It is certainly a great mitzvah and highly praiseworthy life-saving act.
Many kidney donors see their decision as one of the most meaningful acts they have ever performed. There is great support and encouragement of living kidney donation throughout the Jewish world. Israel has one of the highest per-capita rates of living kidney donation.
Some important resources for kidney donation include:
Ematai, through its Option 18 initiative, educates about and encourages living donation. Ematai does not facilitate living donations and cannot assist patients looking for a donor. For more assistance, please contact some of the above resources marked on this page.
To register as a posthumous organ donor, click here.