Event Stresses Halachah Behind Organ Donation

Laying in a hospital bed 13 years ago, Elizabeth Rubin was in a lot of pain, uncertain whether she was going to live. And just weeks before, life had been so good: She had recently given birth to her second daughter, and she and her husband were enjoying their increasingly active household. But then the symptoms started appearing – her skin looked very tan, even though she hadn't been out in the sun, her abdomen began to swell, and she was tired all the time.

After ongoing doctor appointments, Rubin and her family wound up traveling to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – 300 miles from her home in the Delaware County suburb of Wallingford – where doctors diagnosed her with cryptogenic sorosis, a permanent scarring of the liver. The cause was unknown. Just as quickly as she received the diagnosis, she was placed on a waiting list for a liver transplant.

"All of a sudden, I was thrown into this world," she recalled. "When I was told that I needed a transplant, I thought I was going to die."

After Rubin spent six uncertain weeks in the hospital waiting for some good news about an available liver, a match was found, and she was rushed into surgery for what was to be a successful transplant.

"I've been able to live my life as I wanted to, and I've been able to watch my children grow," she said.

Rubin spoke of her difficult experiences to about 80 people during brunch at Congregation Beth El-Ner Tamid in Broomall on Nov. 13.

Held in conjunction with the Gift of Life Donor Program's National Donor Sabbath Weekend, the event, purposely held in a faith-based location, was meant not just to raise awareness about organ donation, but also to deter people from using religion as an excuse not to donate.

Barry Blum, the congregation's rabbi, noted after the event that Judaism strongly supports organ donation, especially following death.

"All four movements basically subscribe that to be an organ donor is a positive Jewish thing," said Blum.

The Jewish position becomes tricky, however, when it comes to someone donating organs while they are still alive. Live kidney donations have proven to have a low-risk level for a donor, but donating a portion of the liver could potentially kill a person – a chance that Jewish law does not necessarily support taking, said the rabbi.

"[With] certain organs there are questions, specifically about the liver, because the surgery is more invasive and could possibly be threatening to the person who's donating," he explained.

On the flip side, for a Jew to donate organs after death is highly encouraged.

"It's an act of Torah, an act of service to God to save another person," said Blum.

An Unfounded Reasoning
Scott Noye, a member of the congregation, told the group about his experience in receiving a transplant.

"I received a sight-restoring cornea transplant that saved me from blindness," said Noye, who now only needs normal glasses to see.

He also noted that if people cite religious beliefs as an excuse not to be an organ donor, their reasoning is unfounded.

"Every major organized religion supports organ donation," he claimed.

As for Rubin, she has developed a strong, fit body since having her transplant. She has even earned swimming, and track-and-field medals, in the United States Transplant Games.

"I feel fabulous, and I can say that my life is perfectly normal, and I do what everyone else does," she said. "I go to the gym three or four times a week."

Rubin added that she now speaks to groups hoping that her story will propel people to sign up as organ donors.

"If you make the decision to donate," she said, "you will save someone like me."



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