Live donor kidney transplantation is often (but not always) an exception to the rule in Halacha which forbids mutilation of our bodies because of their inherent holiness, having been created “b’tzelem elokim,” in the image of G-d. In cases of ESRD, we are dealing with “pikuach nefesh,” saving a life, which, in Jewish law, is often considered to be a compelling reason to permit a normally forbidden act.
Kidneys can be donated by live donors or taken from the bodies of individuals declared to be dead. However, the overwhelming majority of deaths are ineligible for donation, resulting in a severe shortage of kidneys available for transplant.
A Jewish communal organization called Renewal, which was formed in 2006, specializes in finding living kidney donors for patients suffering from ESRD. Renewal works in cooperation with hospitals and medical teams across the U.S. specializing in transplants, and with the National Kidney Registry, which maintains the kidney waiting list in the U.S., and assures that the established medical and ethical guidelines are followed.
Renewal does not solicit donations from the family members of prospective recipients. It does not receive any government funding, and relies on donations from members of the community.
The logistics required for successful swap arrangements can be difficult to set up. To minimize the element of mutual trust required, kidney swap operations are generally scheduled to be performed simultaneously, to prevent any of the participants from backing out at the last minute. This requires both donors and the necessary medical facilities and personnel all to be available at the same time.
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