Robby Berman from the Halakhic Organ Donor Society spoke at our shul this Shabbos. Yes, there are halakhic issues with being an organ donor in any case not to do with life and death. However, as Mr. Berman pointed out, we are not only allowed, but are in fact required to eat pork on Yom Kippur if by doing so we will save someone's life. The same should go for organ donation. If someone's life is at stake and you can save it without putting yours at risk (eg. a single kidney donation) or if you have been declared brain-stem dead anyway, it would follow that you still have the obligation to save the other life. I actually met a woman at this event whose husband was killed in an accident and who chose to have his organs donated. Four lives were saved because of her choice to do this and, though plenty of rabbis and laypeople have found fault with her decision, it's clear to me that she did the right thing.
The most problematic thing about this issue is that Jews receive donations even if they won't give them.
Some stories around this that Mr. Berman shared:
A young girl was on a waiting list for lungs. Her family asked that she be moved to the top of the list. The doctors agreed to do this at the point only at the point that she had 10 days left to live. This delay, of course, is because of the enormous waiting list from lack of donors. However, a donor was found and at the very moment that the helicopter was landing on the hospital roof to deliver the lungs, the patient died. The hospital staff then came to the family, gave their condolences, then said they didn't have long to act. They could use her working organs for several other children in the hospital that were dying. The family declined, saying they were Jewish. They were not even religious in any way but entirely secular. They held to this one "halakhah" to the detriment of the other patients in the hospital, when they didn't follow any others. But they were willing to accept organs from someone else.
Another point... in America I think that 40% of the population have signed up for organ donor cards. In Israel, by comparison, only 6% have signed up. As a result:
1. Israel has been kicked out of the international organ donation network because it will receive but won't give.
2. Israelis have been caught using the black market in other countries to get organs, including places such as China. Apparently one of the sources for organs in China is from prisoners - not death-row prisoners, but people like car thieves - who are then murdered in order for their organs to be sold.
This is all sick and disturbing and I now am eager to take whatever steps necessary that I can save lives in the event of - G-d forbid - that I should need to at the time of my own death. (Not for 100 years please.) The biggest problem U. and I have been discussing is why we need a halakhic donation card and can't just sign up on our driver's licenses. I already emailed HODS to find out more about this, but I encourage you to think about this, to sign up if you can, and to talk about the issue in your communities. There is so much more to be said. But in short, people - mostly rabbis apparently - have loads of knee-jerk misconceptions about the law and the gravity of this issue.