Frequently Asked Questions
the Halachic Organ Donor (HOD) Society
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1. What is the HOD Society?
The HOD Society is a non-profit organization that educates Jews around the world about halachic support for organ donation from Jews to the general public (Jews and non-Jews alike). It also offers a living kidney donor program, trying to help altruistic kidney donors find recipients in Israel or in the Jewish community.
No. The HOD Society recognizes the plurality of halachic positions concerning organ donation and determining the moment of death. Therefore, it offers a unique organ donor card that allows people to choose between different halachic options.
While the HOD Society recognizes brain death as Halachic death (which is why we offer it as an option on our card), it also recognizes this issue as a rabbinic debate and thus offers two different options of defining death on its organ donor card. Ultimately, individuals should learn the issues themselves and consult with their Rabbi.
Yes. Nephrologist Benjamin Hippen notes in the scientific journal New Atlantis, "Life on dialysis is a fragile, vulnerable existence." Far too often, things do not go well, and people on dialysis are unable to work, experience multiple complications, and die.
The latest United States Renal Dialysis Statistics on life expectancy on dialysis (http://www.usrds.org/2009/ref/H_Ref_09.pdf) show that people live 14 more years after receiving a transplanted kidney then if they would have stayed on dialysis.
Yes. The HOD Society has helped to save more than two hundred people who need a donated organ. Some organ donations were directly enabled by the HOD Society, such as in the pairing of altruistic, live kidney donor Eric Swim of the U.S. with ten year-old recipient Moshiko Sharon of Israel. Other donations occurred when the HOD Society was called by a family to come to the hospital to consult, and as a result of the consultation the decision to donate was made.
Indirectly, people have made decisions to donate organs of a loved one based partly on initial exposure to the topic by reading the HODS website, HODS printed material, hearing a HODS lecture, or seeing a HODS advertisement with our list of over 200 Rabbis who have HOD Society organ donor cards. This introduction to the topic raised these people’s awareness and spurred them to consult with their Rabbi.
8. Can the HOD Society help me get an organ?
Not directly. The HOD Society has, in the past, directly paired altruistic live kidney donors with recipients, but its main mission is to save lives by increasing organ donation from Jews and donating them to the general public (i.e. whoever is next on the list.)
The treatment of the deceased according to Jewish law includes rehitzah (practical washing), taharah (ritual pouring of water), and halbashah (dressing the corpse in a white shroud). Sometimes the physical state of the body after a car accident, open chest surgery, or donation of certain organs may limit or even preclude application of these rituals. According to Jewish law, observance of these rituals is not more important than saving someone's life through organ donation.
10. Is the HOD Society active in America only?
No, the HOD Society is active in Israel and America and has delivered lectures in many countries such as South Africa, England, Greece, Italy, Poland, Germany, and more.
11. How does the HOD Society support itself?
The HOD Society supports itself through charitable donations and receiving contributions for lectures. It is a recognized charitable organization in the U.S.A. but not in Israel.
12. Is the HOD Society a recognized non-profit organization?
Yes, the HOD Society has 501(c)3 status, and financial donations are tax-deductible. In Israel it is not a recognized non-profit organization. The reason for this is because the Israeli tax authorities require that a certain amount of money be raised in Israel in order to keep the non-profit status and, for diverse reasons, most of the money raised to support HODS comes from the USA.
There are a series of medical tests that you must undergo before being declared eligible to donate a kidney. Click here for a list of those tests in both English and Hebrew. (As PDF documents, these lists might take a few seconds to load. Please be patient.) For additional information on living kidney donors, click here.
The majority of states in the United States recommend that people enroll in their state organ donor registries. You can do this online by visiting www.donatelife.net and choosing the state you live in through the drop-down menu or, alternatively, by registering at your local Department of Motor Vehicles office. You can also get an organ donor card from the Halachic Organ Donor Society by clicking here. It is important to note that there isn't a universal method of enrollment across the nation and laws that oversee donation vary from state to state. Please inform your immediate family of your wishes to be an organ donor by calling or e-mailing them right now! Families who don't know their loved one's wishes can undergo additional stress and confusion at a time of sudden loss and grief.
Once a person checks that box on his/her driver's license, the decisions of how the body is treated is left up to non-Jewish hospital staff who are operating outside of halachah and will not take care to avoid halachic issues. However, the reverse side of the HODS organ donor card specifically states, "All preprations for transplant must be done in consultation with my family-appointed rabbi. All medical procedures must be done with utmost care, respect, and minimum damage to the cadaver." Every case must be dealt with in consultation with one's local orthodox rabbi, whom one consults in all matters of Torah observance. Additionally, your driver's license does not include a telephone contact. If you are unconscious and all you have is your driver's license, emergency personnel may not know whom to call. However, if they see the HODS card in your wallet, they will know to call the people you have listed on your card as your emergency contacts. Finally, it is important to tell your immediate family of your wishes to be an organ donor so they are aware of your decision.
Hospitals do not maintain an organ donor database. Once hospital personnel do everything they can to save your life but in spite of their efforts they can't get you to "wake up" and you look dead and you act dead and you are unconscious and you are not in coma and you are on a ventilator that is doing 100% of the breathing for you, your attending doctors suspect that you are brain dead. Then, to get an expert opinion, two, not one, but two different independent neurologists are called in at separate times to perform a series of test on you. If both of them determine that you are brain dead, then, and only then, does the hospital contact the transplant community. And even after making that call, the doctors do not know if you are a registered member. A transplant coordinator is contacted and the first thing he or she does is check your medical chart to make sure that brain death was diagnosed following proper protocol according to the law. If not, they have to retest the person. If yes, then the transplant coordinator meets with your family to discuss the possibility of organ donation. Only if your family agrees do they begin the process. That is why is is very important that your family be familiar with your wishes.
20. What about news reports of a comatose patient or a brain-stem dead patient waking up right before the doctors were about to remove his or her organs?
First, newspapers love to be sensationalist, they often get facts wrong, and readers don't read articles carefully.
Second, concerning a person in a coma: the medical and legal establishment in almost every country in the world understands that a comatose patient is alive. Any person who would remove organs from a comatose patient would be guilty of murder. There can be a situation, however, where a person is in a coma from which there is no return (Persistent Vegetative State - PVS) and the family decides to remove the ventilator. Subsequent and consequent to the removal of the ventilator, the patient's heart stops and then organs can be legally recovered.
Thirdly, concerning a brain-stem dead patient/corpse: all reports of a person being brain-stem dead and suddenly waking up have never been substantiated. It has never been documented. The brain-stem contains the center of human consciousness and when it dies from lack of oxygen its cells begin to irreversibly liquefy (a process called lysis). When a heart stops beating, on the other hand, it just sits there and you can perhaps restart it. Not so with brain cells. Their death is irreversible.
Lastly, concerning a misdiagnosis of brain-stem death: there has not been one documented case where both clinical bed-side testing (apnea test, cold cholorics, dolls eyes, etc) and confirmatory blood-flow testing (where the blood is shown not to reach the cranium) were performed and showed brain-stem death where the patient/corpse woke up. Moreover, the very first thing a transplant coordinator does upon arrival to the hospital is to check the medical chart to make sure hospital protocol was followed in the diagnosis of brain-stem death. Not every hospital requires confirmatory blood flow testing. The Halachic Organ Donor Society does require that confirmatory blood flow testing is done prior to a decision of brain-stem death.