OPINION: New organ donor law can be watershed moment for our community

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OPINION: New organ donor law can be watershed moment for our community

Almost 18-years after losing her son Yoni in a Tel Aviv terror attack, Marsha Gladstone reflects on the life-affirming act of organ donation and helping to save others' lives

Yoni Jesner and Marsha Gladstone
Yoni Jesner and Marsha Gladstone

It will soon be 18 years since my youngest son Yoni was killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in Tel Aviv.

It was a terrible loss that our family lives with every day.

Yet the fact that in his death, Yoni was able to save the lives of four people whose chances of living were quickly fading is a wonderful thing.

A year after Yoni died, I travelled to meet Yasmin, the little Palestinian girl who received Yoni’s kidney.

I will never forget how, as her mother came forward to embrace me, I felt the closeness of our two hearts, her gain and my loss became one.

Her elation and my grief, forever bound together by the accident of the perfect match.

We were two sides of the same coin, feeling both the pain and joy, the despair and the renewal in one another.

That remarkable feeling returns to some degree every time I meet those who have been given a second chance at life having received a much needed transplant.

Perhaps the most moving event I have attended since Yoni died was a ‘Service of Thanksgiving to Donor Families’ held at Glasgow University’s magnificent Bute Hall, organised by NHS Blood & Transplant.

700 people were invited, half were recipients and their families, half were donor families.

Five people, of whom I was one, were invited to share their stories; either of terrible loss and how they came to donate their loved one’s organs, or of elation as their prayers were answered.

Once again, we were two sides of the same coin, grief and joy, loss and gain.

To me, the opportunity to flip that coin in some unknown person’s favour, to offer the gift of life to somebody we will never meet, is Chesed Shel Emmet – the ultimate act of kindness.

It is an incredible mitzvah for which we can never be thanked.

Since Yoni’s death, having been introduced to the world of organ donation, I have been struck by the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding prevalent across the Jewish world.

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, (always of course under the advice and guidance of our chosen rabbinic authority), but it is something to be positively encouraged because of the supreme value we as Jews place on life itself and the lengths we are obligated to go to in order to preserve it.

As the famous Rabbinic quote says: “To save one life is equal to saving the entire world”.

We have now been granted an opportunity to spread this message far and wide.

Thanks to the tireless and hugely successful efforts of the Chief Rabbi and the sensitive and caring manner in which NHS Blood & Transplant have sought to meet the needs of our community, the new ‘opt-out’ system which became law in England in May will enable a person to declare on the Organ Donor Register that their wishes for donation are entirely subject to guidance from their chosen religious authority.

The effect of this accommodation 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.

This can be a watershed moment for the way that 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 our close friends and family.

Apart from the obvious benefit to any future recipient resulting from a positive decision, these conversations are special opportunities for meaningful life affirming and values based discussions to be brought into the family arena.

These discussions can inculcate in our children an awareness that we all have a responsibility to society and the world around us, and demonstrate an absence of fear of the subject of death, which in turn, helps to promote resilience. There is no doubt that the worst time to be introduced to the notion of organ donation is when you have just lost a beloved family member and are at your most vulnerable, as we were. gladsThat is certainly not the time to have the serious and thoughtful discussion that this subject deserves.

The Yoni Jesner Foundation plans to work with our Jewish secondary schools to ensure that students are introduced to the subject at the appropriate age and can begin to formulate their own views for discussion with their families.

With these latest changes to the law and to the Organ Donor Register, every one of us can place ourselves in a position to flip that coin from despair to renewal for somebody in urgent need. I would urge everyone to take advantage of this incredibly positive development. Choose life, and sign up to be a faith based organ donor.

  • Marsha Gladstone is Chair of the Yoni Jesner Foundation
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