Donating a Kidney: Allowed or Obligated?

Ask the Rov: Am I allowed or perhaps obligated to donate a kidney?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah

The Torah says, “Lo saamod al dam rei’echa,” do not stand idly by your friend’s blood. Thus, one is obligated to invest effort, money, and discomfort (e.g., donating blood) to save the life of a fellow Jew.1 But what about putting one’s own life at risk for this cause?

The Talmud Yerushalmi writes that one must put oneself in danger to save another Yid. The Rambam rules that one must do “whatever one can” to save a life, and the Hagahos Maimonis explains that he must even endanger himself.

Yet, most Rishonim don’t accept this Yerushalmi as halacha, and some go so far as calling one who does so a “chossid shoteh,” a foolish pious.2 While the Beis Yosef quotes the Yerushalmi in his commentary on the Tur,3 he omits it in his Shulchan Aruch, implying that one should not endanger oneself to save someone else. Likewise, the Alter Rebbe writes that it is forbidden to endanger oneself even to save a friend from definite death.4

What about donating a kidney?

Years ago, there was a significant risk to kidney donors. Therefore, eminent poskim like the Minchas Yitzchok and Tzitz Eliezer prohibited taking this risk.5 However, as medicine developed, the risks of kidney donation has decreased and apply to less than 1% of donors. Recent poskim therefore note that it is no longer categorized as a common risk, or even a safek, probable risk.6 While there is still a small risk, the Radvaz writes that one is allowed to place oneself at a minor risk to save his friend from a definite danger.

Still, poskim rule that there is no obligation to donate one’s kidney due to the degree of risk that still exists and potential complications down the line.

Yet, it is midas Chassidus and a great mitzvah to save another life in such a manner,7 and he has great merit in this world and the next.8

See Sources (open PDF)

From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash

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