The government is consulting on the introduction of an “opt-out” or “presumed consent” system of organ donation, whereby, unless a potential donor has actively made their wishes known, they are assumed to be content to donate organs. This is a threat to Jewish freedoms and family rights around burial and mourning rites.
The majority of Jews in the UK follow Rabbinical authorities that define death as involving the cessation of heart functions as well as brain functions. Both definitions of death are recognised by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.
However, in practice, under a presumed consent system, organs may be removed from a donor whose wishes are not known while being considered to still be alive in the eyes of their Jewish family.
It should also be noted that there is no robust evidence that presumed consent systems raise organ donation rates. However, public information campaigns and transplant co-ordinators in hospitals can and do raise donation rates, and the Board of Deputies fully supports these measures.
The position of maximum religious freedom and exercise of religious conscience for the UK Jewish community is to develop an organ donation that increases donor rates and protects family rights. Not all Jews share the same view of the opt-in/opt-out issue. Where there is a diversity of opinion within the Jewish community, the Board advocates a position which defends the religious freedom of all Jews.
Therefore, the Board of Deputies supports the retention of an opt-in system with reforms that have been shown to increase organ donation.
If you want to know more about the Board of Deputies position on organ donation, please read our briefing here. You can contribute to the government’s consultation below