Board of Deputies warns against unintended consequences as Government launches consultation on organ donation

President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the national representative body of the UK’s Jewish community, Jonathan Arkush, said:

“Saving life is one of the most important values in Judaism. On behalf of the UK Jewish community we support means to increase organ donation and relieve suffering.

However, today’s Government consultation on presumed consent risks counterproductive and unintended consequences.

  • In Judaism the role of the family is as custodian of the deceased’s body. This is a critical stage in the mourning and bereavement process. The Jewish family is expected to respect the wishes of the deceased, and to play an active role in the decision making process around donation. A consequence of presumed consent is that it marginalises this role of the family, interferes with their expected practice of Jewish tradition at a time of considerable distress and upset, and is harmful to their mental health.
  • The Board of Deputies wants to see religious freedom for all, from the most “Orthodox” to the most “Progressive”. The current opt in system gives freedom to all in our community to choose the conditions under which they can discharge their obligation to help save life. There are some groups within our community who accept that death – leading to organ donation – occurs at the time of brain stem death. Others – including the UK Orthodox denominations, the largest denomination in the country – prefer the time of cardiovascular death. This latter group fears that the state will remove their organs while they are still, according to their definition, alive. In other words, the state would be killing them. Both opinions deserve respect, and the current NICE guidelines about consent endorse this.
  • There is evidence that cultural change is more crucial to donation rates than legislation around presumed consent. Cultural change could include religious leaders calling for people to opt in. This is what we want to see. It is what could happen if the Government worked with our community to introduce new mechanisms and safeguards to opt in and help us to ensure that even the most Orthodox Jews in our community could donate with confidence. The Board of Deputies has been actively pursuing this objective for many years. Together with the Muslim community in 2013 we proposed to the Government how this might be achieved for faith and minority communities. We will be responding to the consultation that it is deeply regrettable that these suggestions have not yet been implemented.
  • If there was indeed overwhelming evidence about the advantages of presumed consent then the Board of Deputies would have to reconsider carefully how to respond. However, the facts speak for themselves. In the 21 months before the introduction of presumed consent in Wales there were 104 donors; in the 21 months since then there have been 101 donors: a fall in number.

We urge our community and the public at large to respond to this consultation to urge the Government: Help us to opt in. Do not force us to opt out.”

The consultation can be found here:

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