What Does Jewish Law Say About Autopsies and Organ Donation?

The halakhah does not generally permit autopsies, understanding these to be an affront to the honor due the dead and the integrity of the corpse.

There are, however, two exceptions.

If state authorities require an autopsy (when, for example, there is suspicion of foul play, or in a public health emergency), then Jewish law also permits it. 

And when an autopsy could conceivably help to save another person’s life (for example, in a case where a puzzling disease continues to threaten living members of the family of the decedent), the procedure is also allowed (CJLS responsum of 1958 authored by Rabbi Isaac Klein and now published in the author’s Responsa and Halakhic Studies, pp. 42–52, cf. also my A Time to Be Born, A Time to Die [New York: The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1976], p. 23,).

Similarly, because organ transplants save lives, it is considered meritorious to donate one’s organs posthumously.

The CJLS (committee of Jewish Law and Standards) has addressed this topic for readers interested in learning more. There is also a brochure featuring information and a form for future organ donors to fill out available from the Rabbinical Assembly.

Adapted with permission from The Observant Life.


  • The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews distills a century of thoughtful inquiry into the most profound of all Jewish questions: how to suffuse life with timeless values, how to remain loyal to the covenant that binds the Jewish people and the God of Israel, and how to embrace the law while retaining an abiding sense of fidelity to one’s own moral path in life. Written in a multiplicity of voices inspired by a common vision, the authors of The Observant Life explain what it means in the ultimate sense to live a Jewish life, and to live it honestly, morally, and purposefully. The work is a comprehensive guide to life in the 21st Century. Chapters on Jewish rituals including prayer, holiday, life cycle events and Jewish ethics such as citizenship, slander, taxes, wills, the courts, the work place and so much more.

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