Yoni Jesner’s mother hails organ donor law ‘watershed’ for the community

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Yoni Jesner’s mother hails organ donor law ‘watershed’ for the community

Mum of murdered teenager – whose kidney saved a Palestinian’s life – urges Jews to ‘sign up with confidence’ to new system

Yoni Jesner and Marsha Gladstone
Yoni Jesner and Marsha Gladstone

The mother of a Jewish teenager whose kidney saved a Palestinian girl’s life in 2002 has said new religious considerations for organ donation in England represent “a watershed moment” for British Jews on the issue.

Marsha Gladstone, whose 19-year-old son Yoni was killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv while studying at a yeshiva, made the comments in this week’s Jewish News, one month after his younger brother Ari urged the community to register.

After Yoni’s death, Gladstone established the Yoni Jesner Foundation in her son’s name and has been a passionate advocate of organ donation ever since his organs saved two Jewish men and Yasmin, a Palestinian girl Marsha later met.

Ari is now chief executive of the Office of the Chief Rabbi and last month urged Jews in the UK to sign up to the NHS’s new organ donation register, after England adopted an opt-out system in May.

Implementation delays caused by the coronavirus outbreak gave Jewish representatives chance to agree to a new faith declaration, meaning that people can register as donors but declare that they want their donation to be in accordance with the Jewish faith, with rabbinic involvement. It was initially feared that the pandemic might greatly delay the introduction of the opt-out system, perhaps until next year, but the law was changed eight weeks ago.

“The effect of this will be to allow observant Jews to engage positively with the new system for the first time, safe in the knowledge that their faith will be respected,” Gladstone writes in this week’s Jewish News. 

“This can be a watershed moment for how our community regards the subject of organ donation, which is often an emotionally-charged subject. It is so important that we begin to discuss how we feel about it with close friends and family.”

The new system presumes people agree to donate unless they have opted-out, replacing the system in which they were deemed not to have consented unless they opted in. Medics say the change will save thousands of lives.

Last month, Jesner said that “the recommendation to the community is to go online and sign-up with confidence”, describing the new faith declaration as “a tremendous opportunity”. The Chief Rabbi’s Office and the Board of Deputies have worked with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and the Human Tissue Authority to create the faith statement, which enables Jews to record their decision based on Jewish law and ethical considerations. This faith statement, which can be viewed and signed by any Jewish organ donor, is now live on the NHSBT website. 

This week Gladstone said that since Yoni’s death, she had “been struck by the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding prevalent across the Jewish world,” adding: “There are still many people who mistakenly believe that organ donation is always prohibited in Jewish law.

“In fact, not only is it often permitted to donate our organs, but it is something to be positively encouraged because of the supreme value we as Jews place on life itself.”

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