Apple CEO Steve Jobs has a new job, of sorts, and he has given me yet another reason to admire him. In fact, I think this one is even better than the fact that he gives my kids lots of candy on Halloween and is the head of the company that invented my most enjoyable iPod nano. I am even thanking Jobs (who is not Jewish) here for providing me an opportunity to remind my fellow Jews of a halachic and ethical obligation.
Yesterday, Jobs spoke for the first time in public about his liver transplant almost a year ago at an event here at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to encourage increased organ donation by Californians. He and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a bill sponsored by state Senator Elaine Alquist of Santa Clara County (the county in which both Stanford and Jobs’ home in Palo Alto are located) that would require California motorists to either agree to be organ donors or consider it at a future time before being issued their license. Currently, motorists are not required to respond to the question about organ donation on their license applications or renewal forms.
“I was almost one of the ones that died waiting for a liver in California last year,” said Jobs according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News. He was fortunate enough to be able to get on the organ transplant list at a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Job’s financial resources allowed him to travel there for initial testing and examinations, and then again to fly there immediately by private jet upon receiving notice that a suitable liver was available for him.
The Governor credited Jobs with getting the drafting of the bill into motion by sharing his personal story and emphasizing the critical need for organ donorship with the First Lady of California, Maria Shriver, who in turn urged her husband to act. “What I like about Steve is, because he is a wealthy man that helped him get the transplant. But he doesn’t want that — that only wealthy people can get the transplant and have a plane waiting to take him anywhere he needs to go. He wants every human being, if you have no money at all or if you’re the richest person in the world… everyone ought to have the right to get a transplant immediately,” said Schwarzenegger of Jobs, who pressed to get the bill drafted.
Based on his personal experience of being close to death and being saved by an organ transplant, I am sure Jobs would wholeheartedly agree with the Jewish injunction that pikuach nefesh docheh hakol (the saving of a life supersedes everything else). Many Jews still think that organ donation is forbidden, mistakenly convinced that Jews cannot be buried without all their organs. This is, in fact, not true. The real reason that organ donation was traditionally uncommon among observant Jews was because up until relatively recently, Jewish law recognized death as only when a person’s heart stopped beating. Medical advances have changed the Jewish understanding of death, so that many poskim (rabbis who rule on issues of Jewish law) now also recognize the cessation of brain stem activity as death, allowing organs to be harvested while a dead person is sustained on life support to keep the heart artificially pumping and oxygen flowing.
Many halachic authorities have come to feel so strongly about this issue that they have formed an organization, Halachic Organ Donor Society, to clarify misunderstandings and promote organ donation among religious Jews. An impressive array of rabbis from almost all Orthodox hashkafot (halachic and philosophical outlooks) and sects participate in the organization and have given it their hechsher (“kosher” approval). Believe me, it’s not every day that you see so many of these rabbis agreeing on something. I am especially pleased to see how firmly even the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) among them emphasize that Jews should donate their organs to whomever needs them, Jew or non-Jew alike.
I have registered to be an organ donor, and I hope you will register too, if you haven’t already. When they say, “You can’t take it with you,” it’s not only about money and possessions. It’s also about your heart, liver, corneas, and the rest. Just as you leave your estate behind for the sake of others’ lives, so too should you do so with your organs – even in a more literal sense.
Click here to watch an ABC news report on Jobs and Schwarzenegger at the event at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.
Tags: ABC, Apple, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, Elaine Alquist, Halacha, Halachic organ donation, Halloween, iPod nano, Jewish law, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Maria Shriver, Memphis, organ donation, organ transplants, Palo Alto, rabbis, San Jose Mercury News, Santa Clara County, Stanford University, Steve Jobs, Tennessee