Israeli medic may revive organ row

By Simon Rocker, January 10, 2013

An Israeli medical expert is set to reopen the debate among Orthodox rabbis over organ donation in a lecture in London next week.

Rabbinical authorities differ on the definition of the moment of death and therefore when doctors may remove organs for transplant.

Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, a paediatric neurologist from Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, who will speak at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Maida Vale on Wednesday, supports the use of brain-stem death, which is recognised by the Israeli chief rabbinate.

But that position has not been accepted by the London Beth Din, which prefers the more conservative definition of cardio-respiratory death, when both heart and lungs have stopped.

Using brain-stem death allows doctors greater leeway because some organs can be taken out only when the heart still beats, even though the donor is no longer considered alive.

A rare spectrum of dayanim will be present at the talk

The event will take place under the auspices of the Montefiore rabbinic training programme but will be open to the public.

Montefiore principal, Rabbi Abraham Levy, said that, while the topic was controversial, he wanted to air it “without machloket [conflict] in order to hear different points of view”.

He said that he had secured the participation of dayanim from four rabbinic authorities: the London Beth Din and the Federation, Sephardi and Manchester Batei Din. It is rare for such a spectrum of dayanim to appear in a public discussion, particularly when the subject is sensitive.

Also attending will be medical experts including Professor Anthony Warrens, president of the British Transplantation Society.

When Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and the London Beth Din clarified their policy on cardio-respiratory death two years ago, they were attacked by some doctors and rabbis for not going far enough. The chief rabbi also called for introducing organ donation cards with a conscience clause, so that carriers could state that donations should be compliant with religious principles.

The American Halachic Organ Donor Society issues cards that enable donors to state a preference for either brain-stem or cardio-respiratory death.

Rabbi Levy said: “If Jews are receiving organs, then if there is a halachic way in which we can donate organs, we should be able to encourage it.”

The Sephardi Beth Din had “discussed favourably adopting brainstem death, provided there is ample protection for all the rabbinic requirements.”

Last updated: 11:45pm, January 10 2013