I once attended a tribute event for living kidney donors, and was intrigued by the lack of diversity in the room. Though there were sectarian distinctions, the common thread was that they were all Chareidim. The room was filled with Chassidim, some yeshivish individuals, and a couple of Sephardic Jews. I had imagined that the diversity of the donors would extend to their religious levels of observance, but was amused that the distinctions remained nuanced in sectarian adherence.
It is not my province to render halachic rulings; I leave that to poskim (rabbinic authorities). Herein, I will address some realities and seek to dispel fictitious notions.
Chareidim are often criticized regarding their willingness to accept organs from cadavers, especially in light of their unwillingness to register as organ donors themselves. However, if one of these critics were to examine the facts surrounding Chareidi organ donation, they would find their indignations to be unfounded.
Consider the following: Each year, there are 160 altruistic kidney donations in the United States. Of those, one Jewish organization alone, Renewal (in Boro Park, Brooklyn), facilitates 30. (They enabled 45 to materialize this year, 30 of which were altruistic. The other 15 were donations to family members or close friends. In fact, the majority of Renewal’s donors meet their recipients for the first time in the hospital as they’re being prepared for surgery.)
According to these numbers, 18% of all altruistic donations nationwide come from one Chareidi organization alone! Of the 30 donors, all are frum (religiously observant), and 85% are what would be considered “Chareidi.” Furthermore, consider that not all Chareidim donate through Renewal; the amount of Chareidi/frum kidney donors compared to any other American demographic is staggering–in a good way!
Kidneyregistry.org states that kidneys transplanted from living donors last nearly twice as long as cadaveric donations. Now, suppose the Chareidi Rabbinate would congregate to reexamine their position on cadaveric kidney donation, and determine that it’s a mitzvah to register to donate one’s organs upon mortality. Do you think there would be a consequential difference in the amount of available kidneys due to the influx of Chareidi signatories?
Let’s examine some hard data: The overwhelming majority of people who have signed up to be [afterlife] organ donors are NOT qualified to donate upon death. It is the extreme minority whose organs are actually viable for transplant. According to Hrsa.gov, there are currently 118,929 people in America awaiting an organ. 81.5% of those people need kidneys. The average waiting time for a kidney is three to five years, depending on blood type. Sadly, 5,000 of them will die annually while awaiting their kidney.
101.4 million Americans (33.8% of America’s population of 300 million) are enrollees in state donor registries as of January 1st, 2012. According to the New York Times, there are approximately 11,000 kidney cadaver transplants that occur each year. Because America’s [annual] mortality rate is 0.7995%, roughly 810,700 registered donors die each year (which means there should be 1,621,400 prospective kidneys which become available annually to the ill renal patients).
Despite the above figures, only slightly more than one half of one percent of kidneys are in fact transplanted! The only explanation is that 99.5% of the kidneys don’t receive medical clearance for transplant because they lack viability; otherwise, there would be no waiting list at all (as 1.6 million kidneys fill the need many times over and would eliminate the existence of a waiting list).
Approximately 500,000 Chareidim reside on America’s blessed shores (Wikipedia/University of Manchester). Based on the US mortality rate, approximately 3,998 of them will die this year. Using our earlier illustration where the [Chareidi] Rabbinate would encourage signing the donor card, and Chareidim would become inspired to register as donors (and would match America’s 33.8% figure of registered donors), that would amount to 1,351 registered Chareidi donors dying this year, leaving behind a theoretical 2,702 kidneys to be harvested for cadaveric donation. Taking into account that 99.32% wouldn’t be viable [for transplant use], merely 18 additional [Chareidi] kidneys would be added to the national “kidney inventory” each year.
The 18 potential Chareidi kidneys that would become available (if the Chareidi Rabbinate would encourage after-life donation), is substantially lower than the 30 [altruistic] figure that Renewal actually facilitates yearly. That is even without taking into account that kidneys stemming from live donors have nearly double the lifespan of the cadaveric kidney.
One Chareidi organization alone compensates–and then some!–for all those [potentially] lost kidneys due to the Chareidi Rabbinate’s hardline stance. So, the next time you hear someone professing slander upon the Chareidi community with the notion that they consume organs when needed, yet refuse to donate, you will know the true response: Chareidim DO donate life!