Ask the Rov: May I sign a card to allow for organ donation?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
Even after someone is unequivocally deceased as determined by halacha, there are three potential issues with using their organs or parts of their body:
(1) Benefit from a deceased body:1 The Torah prohibits having benefit from a meis, and neither relatives nor the person himself can forgo this right. The prohibition is of course overridden in cases of pikuach nefesh, danger to life, but poskim debate whether a liver transplant constitutes pikuach nefesh, and a skin transplant certainly isn’t.
Still, some poskim argue that transplants never transgress benefitting from the deceased, since upon installing the organ in a live body, it becomes part of the living body and loses its previous status. Thus, there is no benefit from a “deceased.” However, others dispute this argument and hold that the organ retains its status, and the prohibition remains.2
(2) Nivul hames, desecrating the deceased body:3 Some poskim hold that a person can provide consent for his body to be desecrated after his passing, even in scenarios where there is no pikuach nefesh.4 Some poskim posit that removing an organ to implant it in another body doesn’t constitute a desecration or disgrace in the first place.5
(3) Failure to bury this part of the deceased:6 There is debate whether the mitzva of kevurah is min haTorah or miderabanan.7 According to the latter view, there is more room for leniency to forgo the mitzva for purposes of transplants, even when not pikuach nefesh.
When it comes to corneal transplants, there are additional grounds for leniency since the cornea is smaller than a kezayis, and many hold that the mitzvah min haTorah of kevurah only applies to a kezayis or larger.8
In practice, poskim allowed a skin bank when the person consented during their lifetime,9 and Rav S. Z. Auerbach allowed taking skin from a deceased person only if there is someone with extensive burns who needs it here right now.10
This complex shaila should be discussed with one’s rov for a psak
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash