Heartbreaking and Heartwarming
The Dee children listen to their mother's heart beat in another body
I don’t think that it’s possible for anyone with a heart not to cry at the video that circulated today. A few weeks ago, Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee were murdered. Today, Rabbi Leo Dee and his children Keren, Yehuda and Talia met with some of the five people who received organs from Lucy Dee.
Moti Elkebats received a kidney. Daniel Geresh received Lucy’s liver, and his mother Maya said: "Thank you for bringing the smile back to my son's face. Every time I see his smile and laughter that I haven't seen for a long time, I will bless you from the bottom of my heart."
But most heart-wrenching was their meeting with Lital Valencia, a mother of two children who received Lucy’s heart. With the aid of a stethoscope, the Dee girls were able to actually listen to their mother’s heart beating. Lital hugged and comforted Keren Dee as she cried. It was simultaneously heartbreaking to again realize the tragic loss of life and heartwarming to see the life that was saved.
The irony is that all this emphasis on the heart highlights exactly why it’s so difficult to get people to agree to donate organs. Organs can only be donated in a case of brain-death, when the heart is still beating. But many people feel that if the heart is still beating, the person is still alive. We feel in our heart that the heart is the life-force of the person. After all, the heart is the thing that we can listen to, and that we can sometimes even feel, throbbing in accordance with our feelings. That’s why historically it was believed that the heart is the essence of a person, and that’s why there are so many figures of speech that involve the heart.
And yet, intellectually, we know that this is not true. Our minds and essence are located in our brains, not our hearts. The neurological activity of the brain creates the presence of a person. When babies are born with extra appendages or organs, they are not considered to be two persons, unless they are born with two heads. Full head transplants have been successfully performed in monkeys and dogs, and are certainly possible with humans; all logic dictates that if a person’s head would be transplanted onto another body, the personhood would entirely transfer with the head.
But the heart, on the other hand, contains no neurological activity and is ultimately nothing more than a pump. Moti Elkebats received Lucy’s kidney but he did not become Lucy. Daniel Geresh survives with Lucy’s liver but he did not become Lucy. And Lucy Dee’s heart beats in Lital Valencia, but Lital did not become Lucy.
In my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism, I have a chapter explaining in much greater detail why brain death should halachically be considered as death, thus enabling organ donation. Yet however much one intellectually recognizes the merits of this, it’s another thing entirely to actually be confronted with the situation. Unfortunately I have first-hand experience with such things, and I can attest that it’s really, really difficult to “give up” on someone when their heart is still beating, if one does not know whether or not they would have wanted it.
For that reason, it’s crucial not to wait for such a thing to happen but instead for everyone to establish their position and make it available to be known if, God forbid, it becomes necessary. The Halachic Organ Donation Society has integrated its activities into Ematai, and they will soon be releasing a form for a “Living Will” that every adult should sign. In the meanwhile, you should gain clarity on the topic and make it clear to your loved ones what your preference would be. Ematai also has this page with lots of useful information regarding procedures in different US states and countries.
Lucy Dee lost her life but saved several others. This not only saves lives, but also helps the Dee family find some consolation in their heartbreaking tragedy. It’s crucial not to miss out on such opportunites.
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I have been a supporter of planned organ donation my whole adult life. I applaud you for movingly showing its value and advocating its widespread adoption. In my opinion, it is the highest possible form of tzedakah.
You portray a heavy halachic shailah as though it were nothing more than merely an intellectual vs emotional issue, and then blare your own "psak" in an area where even learned poskim, whose entire lives are steeped in halacha, are hesitant to tread. Come on, man. The hubris is just incredible.