Israeli organ donations soar after soccer star dies

Fri Feb 4, 2011 8:57am EST
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By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters Life!) - Organ donations in Israel rocketed in January after the death of an Israeli soccer star prompted a religious debate on brain death into the headlines.

Former Israel and Liverpool defender Avi Cohen sustained severe head injuries in a motorcycle crash in December. He was pronounced brain dead and put on a respirator.

Cohen had signed an organ donor card. But his family refused to give away his organs. Newspaper reports said rabbis had appealed to the family not to donate. Cohen's widow said the decision against donation was her own.

Some influential rabbis teach that taking organs from a person who is brain dead is tantamount to murder. "The number one reason people give for refusing to donate organs is religious. Jewish law is perceived, mistakenly, as being against it, when as you know in Judaism it depends which rabbi you ask," said Professor Jacob Lavee, head of Israel's Transplant Centre's Steering Committee.

In general, most ultra-orthodox rabbis are against organ donation while others adopt a more liberal interpretation of Jewish ritual law.

Rabbi Yossef Eliashiv, one of the most influential rabbis in Israel and regarded by Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Jews as "the Sage of the Generation," has ruled that death can only be pronounced when the person's heart has stopped beating.

Other leading rabbis have come out against Eliashiv's stance, contesting his ruling on the moment of death.

Rabbi Reem Hacohen, head of Otniel Yeshiva in the occupied West Bank teaches that a person is obliged by Jewish law to sign a donor card.   Continued...

<p>The Israeli flag-draped coffin of Avi Cohen is seen during a special public memorial service at a football stadium near Tel Aviv December 29, 2010. REUTERS/Nir Elias</p>