Progressively Speaking: What’s the Jewish view on stem cell donation?

Progressively Speaking: What’s the Jewish view on stem cell donation?

Deborah Blausten takes a modern issue and applies a progressive Jewish response

David Gould saving a life by donating stem cells
David Gould saving a life by donating stem cells

Earlier this month a young man named David Gould was told he could be someone’s life-saving match, having signed up to the bone marrow registry six years ago.

David joined the register after hearing about someone in the Jewish community needing a donor. Those people’s names are etched in our minds and the incredible campaigns run by their families, Jewish newspapers and wider community have inspired huge waves of new sign-ups to the donor register.

These families face an agonising reality. They know a donor is needed, they know a match probably exists, but they also know the person who is the match is not on the register.

The Talmud teaches Kol Yisrael Arevim Za Bazah (Shavuot 39a) meaning all Israel are responsible for one another. Responsibility is a powerful notion; it implies that the fate of another person is in some way in our hands. In the case of bone marrow, this reading of responsibility is particularly true.

Jews are more likely to find a match from someone with a similar heritage, meaning our community has an extra layer of mutual responsibility, because we may hold the key to someone else’s survival.

Jewish law is clear that the preservation of life (Pikuach Nefesh) is a value superseding all others. It is something we may break almost any other law to do, especially if – as with marrow donation – it involves little or no pain to us.

If you are able to save a life, there is a strong and clear moral imperative you do so. David’s story reminds us new donors are needed all the time, and the more people who are registered the more we can spare families the pain and stress of a donor search.

From registering new university students to sending out ‘spit kits’ with synagogue magazines, we must each do what we can to ensure as many of us as possible are registered and take our life-saving potential seriously.

υ  Deborah Blausten is a Leo Baeck College rabbinic student

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