Jewish Law and Kidney Donation
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The kidneys are crucial in maintaining homeostasis and in removing metabolic waste products from the human body. This is accomplished by filtering the blood entering the kidneys to provide the proper balance of water and electrolytes. When the kidneys do not function properly, an individual can experience kidney failure, which can be fatal. Medical intervention for renal failure includes hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, both of which have drawbacks. Dialysis is associated with medical complications and typically disrupts the patient’s daily activates and, therefore, many patients may opt for a kidney transplant. For the procedure to be successful, the patient must immunologically accept the kidney. Although the human body has two kidneys, the necessary physiological functions can be adequately performed with only one healthy kidney. Thus, living donors can be utilized as a source for a kidney transplant. Jewish law (halachah) places great emphasis on the preservation of life, with a person being prohibited from endangering his life. Yet, Judaism also requires a Jew to do whatever possible to save the life of another. The question arises as to whether a Jew can risk his life by undergoing surgery to donate a kidney to save the life of another. Halachik authorities have applied various approaches in analyzing this issue. Kidneys obtained from newly deceased individuals can also be utilized for transplantation. Jewish law requires the respect of a dead body and, thus, the question arises of the permissibility of obtaining kidneys from cadavers. Also discussed by halachik authorities are whether the organ donor may be monetarily compensated and whether the transplant may be obtained without the prior permission of the donor.
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