To Rabbi Jacobson
I was just curious why when a Jew gets a driver’s license he is not allowed to donate his organs if the person dies. I know you are not supposed to, but would it not be considered a Mitzvah to save another’s life?
Thanks a lot
Thanks for writing. Even though you write that you are “just curious,” be aware that the answer to your question requires an elaborate discussion.
After this qualification, I will try to give you the short answer:
Our bodies do not belong to us. They are G-d’s gift to us to utilize as a vehicle for our soul’s journey in the material world. We are charged with the responsibility to protect and keep our bodies healthy, and use them to serve the purpose for which they were created. (For more on this see the chapter on Body and Soul and Health and Fitness in my book Toward A Meaningful Life).
We therefore have no right to mutilate, harm or in any way destroy our bodies. Upon death we must return our bodies intact as they were given to us. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” This is why cremation and autopsies are prohibited. The body must be returned to G-d as He gave it to us. When someone gives you a gift you return it to him/her intact, not burned or dissected.
The same is true regarding organ donations. Whether we understand it or not, our responsibility is to return to G-d our bodies as intact as we can. It is also clear that G-d would not allow someone to die or be denied health as a result of our not donating our organs.
Needless to say, as it is with all Torah law, different laws apply when there is an immediate life and death situation and a life can be saved by using the organ of someone just deceased. A competent rabbi needs to be consulted to determine the situation on a case by case basis.
However this life and death rule does not apply to general organ donations, which may or may not be used to save a life. Indeed, these organs may just be stored, and in many known instances organs have even been known to be left not used and ultimately discarded. It is also well known that organs are primarily used for research purposes.
The bottom line is that the Torah engenders in us an appreciation for the sanctify of life, the sanctity of both the soul and the body. We must treat our bodies with sensitivity knowing that it is a Divine gift. If our attitude to our bodies is this way after death, how much more so would our sensitivity be to life — our own and others — during lifetime.
I hope this was helpful. Thanks for writing and please write again.
Blessings and best wishes,