Progressively Speaking: Organ donation is a tenet of our Judaism

Progressively Speaking: Organ donation is a tenet of our Judaism

Rabbi Danny Rich looks at a topical issue and applies a liberal Jewish response

Organ donor card
Organ donor card

This month the NHS Blood and Transplant Service marked national Organ Donation Week, which ended as Rosh Hashanah began.

The purpose of the campaign was to “raise awareness of the important need for families to talk about organ donation to help save lives”.

It works – some 34,000 people joined the NHS Organ Donor Register during the week-long initiative
in 2017.

But to fulfil our guiding Jewish principles, as important as awareness-raising campaigns such as these are, they are still not enough.

I hope the British Government will soon go a step further and introduce an ‘opt out’ policy so people no longer need to join a list in order to be an organ donor.

Many Progressive Jewish voices have long advocated such an ‘opt out’ system whereby it is assumed that, unless an individual has made known his or her wishes not to donate organs, consent will be deemed to have been given.

The medical rationale is simple. The NHS Blood and Transplant Service estimates that, while 4,000 lives are saved by donation each year, some 1,000 of the 10,000 people on the waiting list die as they await a suitable organ.

There is also a strong message from Judaism as to why this is so important. Our religion places human life and its preservation as
a major priority.

Although not without some restrictions – including caring for the living and treating the human copse with respect – becoming a donor opens up the possibility of fulfilling the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh: the saving of a life.

Liberal Judaism would supplement this traditional understanding with an affirmation that, because of its value of individual rights and personal liberty within the boundaries of the secular law, it values the autonomy of an informed conscience.

Liberal Judaism teaches the highest capacity that humans possess is to act rationally and morally. And what could be more rational and moral than giving another human being life in the face of one’s own death?

The Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel declares: “A new heart will I give you, a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

A diseased or non-functioning organ in an otherwise healthy person is a ‘heart of stone’ whereas a healthy organ in a deceased person has the potential to be a reviving ‘heart of flesh’.

How ironic that humanity now possesses the ability to literally fulfil Ezekiel’s metaphor!

  •    Rabbi Danny Rich is the senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism
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