This statement appeared in today’s HaModia:
12 Shevat, 5771
January 17, 2011
Statement from Agudath Israel of America
The recent “Rabbinic Statement Regarding Organ Donation and Brain Death” signed by several score “Orthodox rabbis and rashei yeshiva” is decidedly unorthodox in its approach to the halachic process. In fact, it makes a mockery of that process, by asking other rabbis to accept one particular halachic view regarding a complex issue pertaining to matters of life and death on the grounds that the times, in the signatories’ estimation, require a certain result.
The statement, signed by congregational and campus rabbis and chaplains, duly acknowledges the halachic controversy over “brainstem death” – the diagnosis that a patient’s brainstem has irreversibly ceased functioning. But it goes on to note that forbidding the removal of vital organs from “brain dead” patients – the considered opinion of major halachic authorities of past years and the present – would have “critical implications for organ donation.” And so, the statement’s signers “strongly recommend that rabbis who are rendering decisions for their laity on this matter demonstrate a strong predisposition to accept” the alternative view. Or, if their consciences do not allow them to do so, that they at least “refer their laity to rabbis” who have no such reservations.
For anyone, rabbi or layman, to decide that a perceived outcome should determine what halachic approach to take is something usually associated with Jewish movements outside of Orthodoxy.
Organ donation can and does save lives. Halachic authorities have ruled that, under certain circumstances and with proper safeguards, it is permissible and indeed laudable to be a live donor, and to bequeath organs after death. But defining death is a crucial halachic matter, not one to be “decided” on the basis of what some consider a societal need.
Compounding the statement’s offensive embrace of a halachic position based on an extra-halachic rationale is its derision of those who take “a restrictive position regarding donating organs and a permissive position regarding receiving organs.” That halachic position, held by a majority of major poskim today, is derided by the statement as “morally untenable,” and “must thus be unequivocally rejected by Jews at the individual and the communal level.”
No. What must be unequivocally rejected by Jews, at least those who care for the honor of Torah, are attempts to manufacture “halacha” to personal specifications and the disparagement of true halachic authorities.