It is said that good things come to those who wait. From Jewish tradition, we learn that it took forty long days of waiting to receive the Torah, our bible. That amount of waiting was a test of faith for the people, even though they were promised that their wait would be rewarded.
For people waiting for organ transplants, there are no such guarantees.
Today, and every day, three people will die waiting for a suitable donor organ. I cannot begin to imagine the constant tension felt by the thousands on waiting lists in the UK, hoping to win their battle for life.
Every life lost is a tragedy, but the pain is only magnified when we know it is a life that we could have saved, if only we had the possibility of an organ transplant.
Organ donation is a true enactment of the Jewish value of chesed – translated as ‘loving kindness’, embodying a love which comes from the duty we feel towards one another. It is dedicating our most precious resource, our body, to help someone we will never know, with a benefit we will never see -– a truly altruistic act.
As a nation built on a tradition of rallying together in the face of adversity, it is unsurprising that the vast majority – 80 percent – of British people would be willing to donate their organs. What may be surprising is that only 36 percent ever register.
It’s uncomfortable to consider our own death. Yet this reluctance may stop us from having the vital discussion with our families: those which saves lives. When we are forced to answer the question, most of us want to be lifesavers after we die, but too many of us are never asked, with the opportunity to carry out this special act lost.
As it stands, a person has to opt-in to become an organ donor, but the proposal currently being consulted on would see that change to an opt-out system, meaning that an individual would have to actively decide not to donate his or her organs. Amongst my colleagues in Reform Judaism, there is debate about the merits of this change. Personally, I support it.
In Judaism, we are taught that any other principle comes second to saving a life, and that we must not stand idly by when a life could be saved. I am concerned that the current model for organ donation makes standing idly by the default setting.
Letting people forget this critical decision may lead to people dying every day when they didn’t need to.
By making a change, we can tackle the discomfort and the apathy that surrounds conversations about death, and can get us thinking whilst we have the chance. The end result is what we all want: more transplants being available, saving more lives.
This change, to an opt-out system, could force us all to have conversations that for many really are a case of life or death.
Those waiting for organs, both now and in the future, cannot afford to wait.