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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash| 5763
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Organ Donations - Part I - Donation by the Living - From Chavot Binyamin, siman 109
[For the sake of maximum accuracy in presenting the content and tone of the article on such a sensitive topic, we have translated it word for word. Usually, we use a free translation or a condensation, as often befits the forum. We suggest readers to consult the original.]
Is one allowed to endanger his life in order to donate tissue or an organ, e.g. bone marrow, a kidney, the lobe of a liver or a lung? What is the level of danger into which it is permitted to enter and what is the forbidden level of danger? Is a person obligated to donate his organs to save another?
There is a Torah-based obligation to act to save someone who is in danger. This is learned from that which the Torah writes in regard to returning a lost object, “vahasheivoto lo (lit. you shall return him to him)” (Devarim 22:2). This is understood as “return the person’s body to himself” (Sanhedrin 73a and Rashi, ad loc.). There is also a negative commandment which obligates a person, “lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa (do not stand aside but make every effort that your friend’s blood not be spilled)” (Vayikra 19:16 – see gemara and Rashi. ibid.). The baraita (ibid.) learns from there that “one who sees his friend drowning in the river or being dragged away by an animal, or bandits are standing up against him, he must save him” (ibid.). The negative commandment adds on to the positive one that even if the one who sees is incapable of saving, he is obligated to trouble himself to call others and, if necessary, hire them from his own money to save his friend.
From the examples that we quoted it is apparent that one should not refrain from saving even if the act of saving includes endangering his own life. However, the Radvaz (Shut 1052 and L’shonot Harambam 1582) has a more complex picture of the matter. In one question, he deals with a ruler who says to a Jew: “Allow me to amputate a limb (in a way that you will not die), or I will kill your friend.” The Radvaz rules that he is not required to agree to have the limb removed but there is a moral preference that he agree, and he who can withstand the challenge and consent is to be praised. He continues though, that if there is a danger to his life because of the amputation and he agrees, then he is a crazy righteous man (chasid shoteh), because the doubt for his life is preferable to the certain life of his counterpart. In the other responsum, explaining the obligation to save from drowning, the animal, or the bandit, he explains that one is required to enter a small level of danger, if necessary, even though one is not required to do so in a parallel case to save his friend’s money. He writes: “to save his friend’s life … even in the case of a possible danger he is required to save, and this is what is found in the Yerushalmi… If he doesn’t so, he has violated, ‘lo ta’amod al dam reiecha’.”
To what level of danger is it referring, that one must be willing to enter, which is included in “lo ta’amod al dam reiecha”? He continues: “If the doubt leans toward a certainty [of danger] he is not required to sacrifice himself to save his friend. Even if the doubt is balanced [in other words, fifty fifty], he is not required to sacrifice himself, for ‘what did you see [that makes you think that your friend’s blood is redder]’. But if the danger is not balanced but leans toward [successful] saving, and he does not endanger himself and did not save, he violates lo ta’amod.”
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