According to Rabbi Gil Student, who confirms he did, in fact, post the following comment on his blog Hirhurim, this is Rabbi Hershal Schachter's explanation for why he forbids brain stem dead Jews from donating organs but still allows Jews to receive organs harvested from brain stem dead people:
I just spoke with Rav Schachter. He said that since organs will be removed from donors to any matches on a long list, any specific recipient is not causing the end of the donor’s life. If one recipient won’t accept, another will. Therefore, the recipient is not causing the end of the donor’s life.
I add that, in other words, he agrees with R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
Just in case Gil decides to remove his comment, here is a screenshot:
Rabbi Schachter's claim that the organs will be removed anyway is simply false. It is true that at times there are several potential matches for a particular organ. But in most cases, this is not true.
Simple proof of that comes from the following statistics from the US Government:
In other words, each donor has just under two organs harvested. Update 1-24-11 5:40 pm CST – that statistic includes live donors, which is not relevant here. The actual numbers, pointed out by BK in the comments, are 6639 dead donors (most presumably brain stem dead but some cardiac dead, as well) and 18,506 transplants, which means 2.8 organs per donor are removed. Here is a screenshot of that data:
A human body has two kidneys, one heart, two lungs, one liver, one pancreas and one intestine, and there is a shortage of all these organs.
So why aren't all these organs harvested from each brain dead patient?
Both because some organs may be damaged or diseased, and because there are not matches who can receive these organs.
But you can see that doctors do not harvest organs first and match recipients later, and they do not remove organs and put them in storage for later use with as yet undetermined recipients.
And it is also clearly false that for the majority of transplants there is a long list of matched donors, and that if the Jew turns down the organ, another person will simply take it. If that were true, each donor would donate more than 1.98 organs. (What is true is that the accidents that leave people brain stem dead often compromise organs and make them unavailable for transplant. Even so no organ is removed until a match is secured, and the organ is removed for a specific person.)
In an email, I pointed out to Rabbi Student that no organ is harvested unless a specific donor has first been matched. In rare cases, I wrote, a transplant team can be removing one organ and find out that others have now been matched, but doctors do not remove all organs and hold them until matches are found.
Rabbi Student responded to that by saying that Rabbi Hershal Schachter is "fully aware of that," which means Rabbi Schachter is, in effect, lying to support his position.
There are no long lines of matches. What there are is long lines of people who need organs and who are seeking matches, and organs are not removed unless one of those matches is first found and confirmed. And that means that in all cases the organ is removed for a specific recipient – meaning a Jew needing an organ has it removed specifically for him, and if the Jew decides not to take the organ, it is in some cases not removed because there is no match for it.
Rabbi Schachter has been told this many times. And, as you can hear on this audio, at one time Rabbi Schachter held that Jews are not allowed to receive organs harvested from brain stem dead people. [Rabbi Student says this audio recording does not represent anything Rabbi Schachter actually held or believed himself. Rabbi Schachter was simply explaining another's position, Rabbi Student claims. But the audio makes it clear that Rabbi Schachter agrees that the challenge to the don't donate organs but do take organs position is strong, and he does not have an answer for it.]
But today he chooses to rely on a falsehood that allows him to rule on one hand that brain stem death is not death under Jewish law and that taking organs from a brain stem dead patient is murder, while on the other hand allowing Jews to receive organs from this murder and Jewish doctors to participate in the process.
If no one will accept an organ then the organ will not be harvested. The "murder" of the brain stem dead patient will not take place unless someone says, "Yes, I'll take that organ." This means that the person who agrees to accept the organ has authorized the "murder."
To say that another person will surely agree to take that organ anyway, and the brain stem dead patient will surely be "murdered" as a result, in no way creates a permit for a Jew to take that organ. Since when is murder permissible? Since when is enabling or encouraging murder permissible?
If you are told that you must shoot and kill another person in order to live, you are forbidden to do it – even if there is another person waiting behind you who will shoot and kill him if you do not. That is clear halakha. But to argue what Rabbi Schachter argues is to turn that halakha on its face.
In his Hirhurim comment, Rabbi Student noted that Rabbi Schachter "agrees with R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach."
What was Rabbi Auerbach's position?
That brain stem dead Jews were forbidden to donate organs because harvesting those organs is tantamount to murder. But, at the same time Rabbi Auebach allowed Jews to receive organs taken from brain stem dead patients – as long as this was done in the US or in another country with a minuscule Jewish population. But Rabbi Auerbach specifically forbid Jews to receive organs from brain stem dead patients in Israel, where the population is overwhelmingly Jewish, and many of the non-Jewish population have Jewish antecedents.
That is what Rabbi Schachter agrees with – taking organs through what he calls murder from non-Jews and allowing Jews to benefit from this murder.
[Rabbi Student now tells me that Rabbi Schachter does not agree with Rabbi Auerbach. What Rabbi Schachter agrees with is that Jews can take organs but must not give them. To prove this to be correct, Rabbi Schachter would need to say publicly that Jews living in Israel can take organs harvested from brain stem dead people, including brain stem dead Jews. This, however, seems very unlikely.]
What Rabbi Schachter is doing is morally reprehensible, even if he doesn't know it, and even if his contention about long lines of matches for each organ is 100% true.
I've contended for a long time now that Rabbi Schachter is a destructive force that has, perhaps irreparably, damaged Modern Orthodoxy.
Nothing should make this clearer than Rabbi Schachter's behavior surrounding the issues of brain stem death and organ donation.