Left to right are panelists at a
recent National Council of Jewish Women panel on organ transplants: Dr. Aviva
Goldberg, Rabbi Yossi Benarroch, Marshall Miller and Na’ama Miller. (photo
On Dec. 11, the Winnipeg section of National
Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) held an organ donation awareness event,
featuring community members Rabbi Yossi Benarroch, Dr. Aviva Goldberg, and
husband (organ recipient) and wife (organ donor) Marshall and Na’ama Miller.
Benarroch spoke first, after a welcome from organizers and a video about organ donation (youtube.com/watch?v=5cfaAWTH5zM).
“The short of it is, basically, that Jewish law
permits organ donations,” he said. “There’s no question about that. Of course,
when we talk about law, law is complicated and there are lots of opinions.
There’s an ideal in Judaism, which is one of those foundations, and it’s called
‘pikuach nefesh doche hakol’ … which basically means that, in Judaism,
there’s nothing more important than saving a life.
“I’m a very observant Jew and I keep kosher,”
he said, “but if I had to eat something that wasn’t kosher – pork or whatever –
in order to save my life, then Jewish law says you’re obligated to do that.”
Benarroch said it is written that, if someone
saves a life, it is as if they have saved the entire world. Furthermore, he
said, we are called to not stand idly by if another person is suffering. “We
are obligated to intervene and actually obligated to help that individual,” he
Marshall Miller, who was diagnosed with
progressive kidney disease more than 25 years ago, eventually required
“Slowly, over time, my kidney failure began to
get worse and worse,” he shared. “The disease progressed to the point where, a
few years back, my GP at the time said, ‘Marshall, you’re now at the point
where you have to go see a specialist because I can’t do anything more for you
here … you need an expert to deal with your situation.’
“Everybody who suffers from kidney disease
understands that, what kidneys do, among many things, is purify your blood.
When your blood isn’t being purified properly, you can start to feel kind of
lousy. I think my family can attest to the fact that I was starting to feel
lousy. I think my whole family suffered along as I did, as I got sicker and
When his kidney function was down to less than
10%, the specialist started talking seriously about replacement therapy. This
involved dialysis three times a week until a matching donor could be found.
During the search for a donor, Na’ama Miller
decided to find out if she might be able to help other people in her husband’s
situation. As it turned out, she was a match for her husband.
“We were told it was a one hundred million
shot,” she said. “And so, we were next faced with a bit of a dilemma …
because it was scary for the kids. But Samantha and Maya were very much in
favour of it, because they didn’t want me to be miserable anymore.”
She said, “People ask me, how I could do this
… if it was hard. I give everyone the same answer. It was a no-brainer, a
very easy decision for me. As Marshall said … we were all suffering along
“It’s worth it. You saved a life,” her husband
added. “We hope this event here – even if only one more person signs up …
hopefully, more and more people will choose to do it among the Jewish community
after hearing the story.”
After the Millers spoke, a second video was
screened, about a former Winnipegger who donated a kidney to save the life of a
woman in California, who he has never met.
“Right now, in Canada, there are over 4,500
people waiting for an organ transplant – 4,500 Marshalls,” said Goldberg, who
is the director of the Canadian Society of Transplantation and chair of the
Transplant Manitoba kidney allocation review committee. “We don’t have 4,500
Na’amas. That’s why we need donors – both living and also deceased donors.
“That’s what we want to talk about today,” she
said, “even if you don’t go forward to become a living donor, which is a really
big deal. It’s not something that every person in this room is going to be able
to do and that’s totally fair. But, there’s something that everyone in this
room can do and that’s to sign up for organ donation after you’ve died – say
that this is something I’d like to do, that you’d like to leave a legacy …
you can save lives after you’ve died, either with organ or tissue donation. You
can save lives by donating organs – heart, liver, lungs, pancreas, kidneys and
even small bowel – but, also tissue donation.”
In some cases, people can donate their corneas
to help improve the life of others. According to Goldberg, Manitoba, last year,
was the fourth on the world list of most donors.
While Goldberg implored people to sign up as
donors online, she further reminded them that talking to family about your
willingness to be a donor is also very important – and not just immediate
family, as they might be in the same car with you when you have a horrific
accident, for example.
“The way that organ donation works in Canada,
here, in Manitoba, is that after someone has died and they are potentially
going to be an organ donor, their family is approached,” said Goldberg. “If you
sign up for the registry, it’s a way of saying to your family, on the very
worst day of their lives, that this is something your loved one wanted – wanted
so much that they went to the registry, signed up, made that choice. It’s a
hard discussion to have … [but] it’s so important to do.”
During the question-and-answer period, one
attendee asked if there was an age limit for someone to donate an organ. The
Another question was about the possibility of
rejection and, to that, Marshall Miller shared his experience. “I suffered from
a mild early rejection,” he said. “But, the ability to detect the rejection and
be able to remedy it is incredible. They were able to treat me with medication
instantaneously and, really, it was a non-issue for me. Even though there is a
risk of rejection, it can easily be found if you attend your appointments and
take your medication.”
For information on organ donation in British Columbia and to register, visit transplant.bc.ca.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.