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Community Corner - Scott Howard, Immediate Past President of VBS

11/07/2018 11:42:28 AM


Community Corner

The Gift of Life
Scott Howard, Immediate Past President of VBS

When I was a teenager, some 45 years ago, my teacher and spiritual leader, Rabbi Schulweis taught us in a weekly confirmation class. We sat on the floor in his office and he would pose philosophical questions. We learned through discussion. Among those difficult questions was a discussion of organ transplants and Jewish law.

We learned that the Torah commands us to be buried whole. Seemed straightforward -- Judaism does not allow us to invade a body. However, Rabbi Schulweis explained that the higher commandment of saving a life supersedes the commandment of being buried whole. In our discussion, we surveyed the host of ethical issues raised by organ transplants. In the end, however, we agreed that the wisdom and knowledge of the medical professionals would serve as a proper safeguard.

In a sermons some years later, Rabbi Schulweis wrote:

“In a manner, inconceivable in earlier ages, we can these days exercise the power of resurrection. We can transplant our immortality into the body of others. We can live beyond the grave... The first heart transplant took place in 1967 by Dr. Christian Bernard of South Africa. Since then, thousands of corneas have been transplanted and have enabled people who otherwise would be blind to see. In our time, thousands of hearts, lungs, pancreas, livers, kidneys and bone marrow have been transplanted.

Consider the spiritual implications of such a scientific revolution. Life can now be given to others by ourselves. ‘Who shall live and who shall die' takes on personal urgency. It is a matter of our will, our decision and our courage. We are presented with choices undreamed of, powers of life and death are in our hands. This new gift should be spoken of, thought of and wrestled with our family and friends. A kidney can last 36 to 48 hours, a liver can last 18 hours, and a heart can last 5 to 6 hours. Fifty percent of all heart and liver patients die while they are still waiting for a transplant. What we can do with our organs when we die has to be decided upon now and here while we are alive and well.”

After listening to Rabbi Schulweis, I spoke with my parents and we discussed becoming organ donors. From the time I received my driver's license, I have been a donor. Little did I know that at a relatively young age, I would develop liver disease. It came on very quickly and my life depended entirely on whether I would receive a liver transplant.

This past year, I was hospitalized for five months. I was kept alive by machines, tubes and medicines. I knew I would not be leaving the hospital without a new liver. I would ask the doctors when I should be receiving the liver, and they would just look up to the sky. Every morning, I would wake up with a sense of disappointment that no one had awakened me in the middle of the night to say it was time.

On April 14 of this year, at 11 in the evening, we were told that there was a possible match. It was amazing, as a part of me had given up hope that I would ever walk out of the hospital. Marcie stayed with me that night, and neither of us slept. At 4 in the morning the next day, they told us that it was a match, and I would be going into surgery within a few hours.

In order for me to live, a young woman passed away. I do not know her name or any details. I was given life but at the same time another family had the tragedy of losing their daughter, sister, or perhaps mother. I am going to live, because my donor died. I thanked the donor's family in a note for the gift of life that their loved one had provided. I wished them the strength to get through the difficult time, with the knowledge and promise that I will make sure that my life will be dedicated to goodness and holiness.

None of us know what tomorrow will bring. We thank God every morning for waking up and seeing the sun. We have the ability to help someone we may never know, live. The highest form of charity is the anonymous gift.

I am asking you to consider becoming an organ donor. Discuss it with your family and understand what our teachers have taught us. Don't worry if you think your body is not medically well enough to become a donor. The doctors will decide. If you come to the decision as I did so many years ago, that Judaism does command us to become donors -- then do so, and ask your friends to consider also. It is easy to become a donor. Your driver's license will be updated to reflect you are a donor. Signups can be done online at:  I am here because of my donor, and God willing, I will now be able to make a difference with my new life.

Tue, February 27 2024 18 Adar I 5784