Organ Donation: The Government should not need to legislate


By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
July 14, 2013
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The words from our Torah portion this morning at face value (the peshat) begins the recollection of the Israelites wanderings in the Wilderness. Yet there are notable differences in the words attributed to Moses although undoubtedly written many years later in the times of King Josiah circa. 621 BCE. They highlight that these passages are unconcerned with historical accuracy. Rather, their import is found through the exegetical tool of remez, seeking the message alluded to by the deliberate misquoting of history: literally seeking the moral or f the story.

Moses is cast as the moralizing historian, recounting history in such a way as to emphasise the Deuteronomic point. Specifically, Moses recalls that the Israelites were given the opportunity to conquer the Land but out of lack of faith in God had shied away from doing so. Moses does not mention the report of the 10 spies who suggested that the Land and those dwelling in it would be hard to conquer. He only mentions the good reports of Caleb and Joshua leaving the words of the 10 others to be uttered from the mouths of the People. Moses concludes that because of their lack of faith in God’s power to save, the whole generation was doomed to wandering about and ultimately death in the Wilderness.

The language is highly emotive:

Uvamidbar asher ra-ita asher nsa-akha Adonai Eloheikha ka’sher yisa ish et b’no b’khol haderekh asher halakhtem, ad boakhem ad ha’makom ha’zeh.

And in the Wilderness, you saw how the Eternal, your God carried you, as a parent carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you came to this place.

This past week, National Transplant Week has also raised awareness of a topic for which those who aspire to living a moral life must respond and yet one in which emotions and emotive language are never far behind.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish what we are. In our lives we spend countless time and much money on our bodies. We aim to keep fit and healthy and beautiful; quite rightly so. Yet our bodies are merely the outer garments of who we really are. It is our souls, our minds and deeds that give expression to it: That is truly who we are. Our soul, the ways we make it manifest in our lives through words and deeds and the love we engender by them are stronger than any stone on which an epitaph may be scribed.

When we die, our soul does live on through our words and deeds each time we are remembered. Now with the internet, there is no chance that our soul will be lost. These words I write now will forever be there, a glimpse of my soul!

Our bodies will not. They will have accompanied us through our lives, the platform on which we are gifted the opportunity to be. When this platform gives out, our soul lives on but we can also allow those organs and tissue of our bodies that still have use to be a gift to others. Medical science now allows us the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh – saving a life – even when our own physical life is over.

When we choose to donate our organs and tissue to others, we will save on average 1000 people a year, 3 a day, who would otherwise die because there are not enough organs available. In this country, only 31% of us have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register. There should be no need for the Government to legislate on organ donation, opt-in or opt-out. It should be a choice that we all make because it is the right thing to do.

As vital as us signing up as donors, is communicating to family and friends our decision. Over 90% of families will agree to donation if a relative is registered and has discussed their wishes. This drops to around 40% if donation wishes have not been talked about. By talking about your choice to register, as well as performing the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh – saving a life – you also perform the mitzvah of nichum aveilim – helping to comfort the bereaved, your own family and indeed giving them another reason through your death for your life to have been a source of blessing to them.

I have talked on many occasions and organized a seminar and will do so again, on the issue of Dying Matters – talking to our family and friends about our wishes in the process of dying and in death, just as we talk about our choices and wishes in life. We offer kavod – honour – to all those who are privileged to share these conversations, no matter how difficult or emotional they are. We tend to reserve our deepest feelings and emotions to those we love most. They are expressions of our highest being. Express that love in life, not when it is too late.

Uvamidbar asher ra-ita asher nsa-akha Adonai Eloheikha ka’sher yisa ish et b’no b’khol haderekh asher halakhtem, ad boakhem ad ha’makom ha’zeh.

And in the Wilderness, you saw how the Eternal, your God carried you, as a parent carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you came to this place.

We seek to carry our children with ultimate tenderness and care throughout our lives. We also seek to do that for our parents, grandparents and today great-grandparents when it is our time to do so. We can do so for them not just by our physical actions but by the conversations we engage in. And we can do so through the donation of our organs and tissue so that we give other children of humanity the gift of life, just as we pray others will do for our own kin if they are ever in need. We do so until we reach ha’makom, that place where we ultimately understand our life – and our mortality. Ha’makom a word that also stands as one of our names for God.

As we make our life - and death – choices may we do so on a path that brings even more kavod – honour – to our deepest and eternal being, performing mitzvot even through our death. May we be like Caleb and Joshua, having the wisdom and strength to share this journey with those we love and who love us. On this journey may we come in peace to Ha’makom the place in which we find Truth, the understanding and appreciation of God.

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