Jews divided on automatic organ donation law

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Jews divided on automatic organ donation law

Organ donation  is a controversial subject in the Orthodox community
Organ donation is a controversial subject in the Orthodox community

The Jewish world cautiously greeted a new law on organ donation which came into effect in Wales this week.

Adults now automatically become donors after their death unless they have previously opted out, in a move designed to save lives, but there was a hesitant response from some areas of the Jewish community.

Welsh-Organ-DonationRabbi Paul Freedman, chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, acknowledged that the issue had divided opinion. “We encourage organ donation as a mitzvah,” he said. “Although many Reform rabbis are therefore in favour of an-opt out system, some have questioned whether presumed consent is the right approach.”

It will apply to over-18s who have lived in Wales for over 12 months and who die in Wales. Although the automatic opt-in currently only applies in Wales, the organs could go to anyone in the UK for whom a suitable match is found. 

Some Orthodox leaders this week signed an open letter expressing their unease about the plan, saying: “We remain opposed to any weakening of the principle the donation of organs should be free and voluntary.”

The Board of Deputies did not say whether it supported the new law. Vice-president Marie van der Zyl said only: “We ask that the religious and cultural rights of Jews be respected before organs are taken for transplantation.”

Welsh politicians have been consulting Jewish communal and religious leaders on the change for almost six years, with advice first taken from Lord Sachs when he was chief rabbi. 

In 2011, Sacks said: “A living person may donate an organ to save someone else’s life. This is not only permitted but actively encouraged. With regard to donation after death, in principle Halacha (Jewish Law) permits such donation provided the organ is required for an immediate transplant and not research.”

Rabbis across Wales have begun asking members of their communities to appoint religious representatives to make the decision “because Halachic criterion in the determination of death have to be made”.

Stanley Soffa, chairman of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council, said: “We agree with the aims of the legislation, namely to increase the number of organs suitable for transplant, because there is a big shortage”. 

However, he said: “Many remain unhappy with the manner in which the Welsh Government has approached this,” highlighting the “soft opt-out” provisions, which mean the automatic opt-in would not apply to those whose family can show that they did not want to be a donor.

“How you do that is not set out and will lead to confusion,” said Soffa. “It is important that at a time of grief your family is not put under extra stress… We should all discuss our wishes with loved ones.”

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: