Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5764
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Organ Donations- part III - From Chavot Binyamin, siman 109
[We have seen that according to the Radvaz, one does not have to enter a serious danger to his own life in order to save another. We said that although the main obligation is to toil to save a life, and not directly to give of one’s body, it is proper, beyond the letter of the law, to give donations from the body of things which are replaceable. We continue from that point.]
It is proper to donate replaceable parts of the body (blood, bone marrow, etc.) only in a case that the foreseeable danger from the action is distant. This is under the area of 50% and, in all likelihood, within the limits of danger that people accept upon themselves in order to earn their livelihood. We find a similar idea in Rav Kook’s, “Mishpat Kohen” (143), in regard to Chazal’s teaching on the pasuk “do not fear a man.” Chazal explain that a judge should not fear even when there is danger. Rav Kook explains that this could not be talking about serious danger, but rather it must be talking about a distant doubt, the type of faint concern that people are in the practice of entering into even on monetary matters. That is similar to the gemara (Bava Metzia 112a) which learns from the pasuk “v’eilav hu noseh et nafsho.” The gemara says: “Why did he [the worker] go up the ramp or hang from a tree and give up his life for [possible] death? Was it not for his wages?”
However if there is an equal chance of death and survival and certainly if the “danger leans toward certainty” that the one who intends to save will himself be killed, he is not required to give his life, and it isn’t even a act of righteousness to do so. If one does so, the Radvaz calls him a crazy, righteous man. However, it is noteworthy that he did not say it is a forbidden act. The explanation is that there are times when there is merit in considering such an action. See Rav Kook (ibid., pg. 310) who discusses the matter, and see also Igrot Moshe YD II, pg. 293).
We can learn from the gemara’s examples that the obligation to save is only in regard to involvement of effort on the part of the one who is saving, including physical exertion and slight danger. However, we see from the Radvaz that there is no obligation to donate from one’s body a limb or the type of tissue or organ, like a kidney, which will not regenerate within the donor, even though the danger is not great. There is, though, an “attribute of righteousness” even in this case to save his friend from death and “praiseworthy is he who can withstand this.”
The Shach (YD 157:3) writes that when one is forced to violate a negative commandment and can be saved only by losing a limb of the body, it requires research to determine if the sacrifice is like money (where one has to give all he has to save himself from the sin) or like giving one’s life (where he does not have an obligation of self-sacrifice). The Shach does not cite the Radvaz who, in the parallel case of the commandment not to leave a friend in danger, assumes that there is no obligation, just an “attribute of righteousness.” There is room for distinction, as we have explained, that saving a friend falls under the category of “returning a lost object,” which does not include damage to one’s body. We can say that the Shach’s doubt was not on negative commandments between man and man.
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