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Shmuly Yanklowitz

Congress must pass proposed federal program for kidney donors!

(Wikimedia Commons)

For Jews passionate about social justice, the task of fixing the entire world, with all its disasters and tragedies, can feel both overwhelming and, barring some Divine intervention, impossible. This is why I’m glad that an inordinate number of Jews have chosen to focus their energy on the targeted — but crucial and impactful — mitzvah of kidney donation.

Why do so many in the Jewish community choose to take on the invasive, unglamorous process of donating a kidney to a stranger? (About 15% of altruistic kidney donations in the US come from Orthodox Jews.) It’s because we know from our tradition that saving lives must be among our highest values.

The Mishnah addresses the perplexing fact of how, in the Torah, the first human being was created alone. After all, God famously says, “It is not good for the Human to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). The Mishnah tells us:

It was for this reason that the human was created unique, to teach you that anyone who destroys one life … is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves one life … is as if they saved an entire world. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4)

We engage in the unappealing duty of kidney donation because doing so will save a person’s entire world.

However, while kidney donation has caught on among particularly motivated populations, the numbers are not where they need to be. Though the number of deceased kidney donors has skyrocketed in the 21st century, the number of living donors has remained stagnant. And, according to the Kidney Transplant Collaborative, this leaves 12–17 people per day dying while waiting for a kidney.

For this reason, there is a piece of legislation circulating in among the US Congress called the Living Kidney Donor Support Act, which aims to provide a multi-pronged solution to the insufficient number of altruistic kidney donors. The root of the problem, the Kidney Transplant Collaborative asserts, is the lack of centralization of kidney-donation resources. The organization explains:

Living kidney donation today is a failed and inconsistent enterprise spread across non-profits, transplant centers, and other entities. Comprehensive national legislation is needed to integrate and coordinate public and professional education, to create a patient navigator program supporting potential living donors, to improve reimbursement of costs for living donation, and to conduct necessary studies and other activities to create a program which is effective for potential donors, transplant professionals, and the hospital centers which care for living donors.

Making an altruistic kidney donation is such an emotionally and logistically labrythine process that I felt the need to write a book to help guide Jews through the details of seeing this mitzvah to completion.

And so, the Living Kidney Donor Act primarily seeks to institute a National Living Donor Program — with centralized efforts in education and awareness, cost reimbursement, data collection, and establishing a Donor Navigator Office to give kidney donors professional guidance, all with the aim of dramatically increasing the number of living kidney donors.

I myself made an altruistic kidney donation in 2015 and I still think of it as one of the most meaningful things I’ve done to fulfill my mission in this life. When I met the stranger I was about to donate to, right before our surgeries, we hugged and sobbed together. I felt such a deep sense of human solidarity as we were rolled away on our respective surgery beds.

We should all be shaken by the 12­–17 people in this country whom our current system allows to die each day while waiting for a kidney donation. Is any effort going to be enough to fix this injustice entirely? Certainly not. But every life saved is the saving of an infinitely important human being, and of an entire world.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of 22 books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.
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