Progressively Speaking: Organ donation reminds about mitzvah of saving a life

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Progressively Speaking: Organ donation reminds about mitzvah of saving a life

Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi reflects on a topical issue and offers a Liberal Jewish perspective

As we approach the High Holy Days, we are confronted by profound questions about life and death and of the legacy we wish to leave behind us.

It is therefore appropriate that next week (Monday 7 September to Sunday 13 September), the one just to prior to Rosh Hashanah, is Organ Donation Week.

The saving of life is one of the most important mitzvot in Judaism. If we decide we wish to donate our organs, we could potentially save the lives of not just one, but several people.

That is why Judaism considers donating organs a mitzvah, one of the highest mitzvot we can perform, albeit after our death.

Although there has been some discussion among Orthodox rabbis about the definition of death, most, including the Israeli rabbinic authorities, agree that death defined by neurologic criteria (so-called ‘brain death’) is acceptable, allowing heart and lung transplants to be carried out.

Recent changes in legislation have meant organ donation has once again been a subject of public discussion.

The NHS Blood and Transplant authority, which oversees organ transplants, has been working with faith groups to ensure the legislation takes into account the needs of religion, acknowledging that there is no single view within Judaism or any faith.

Although the legislation has been described as ‘opt-out’, in fact there will be little change in practice.

If donation is a possibility, relatives will be approached by a specialist organ donation nurse (SNOD) who will be trained to discuss the issue sensitively with them. 

Even if their loved one was on the register, the SNOD will still need to ascertain they had not changed their mind and that the relatives are comfortable with the donation going ahead.

If you have not already do so, you may like to sign up on the NHS donor 

However, equally important is to have a conversation with those who will have responsibility for decisions in the event of your death, whether family or close friends. This will make their decision so much easier. It might be a difficult chat to have now, but it will be much harder for them if the conversation does not take place.

There is no greater mitzvah than saving a life and, through registering and making your views known, you can be in a position to do this should circumstances make it possible.

  •  Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi serves Birmingham Progressive Synagogue


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