What the new organ donation laws mean for all of us

Ward at a hospital. (Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire via Jewish News)
Ward at a hospital. (Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire via Jewish News)

A new organ donation system for England has been put into place by the Government. Now is the time to understand the new legislation to ensure the wishes of our loved ones are respected.

We all need to engage with the new approach to consent in order to fulfil the core Jewish values of saving lives (Pikuach Nefesh) and respect for the dead (Kavod Hamet).

Originally, when almost three years ago, there was an announcement of a new system, it  caused concern for many in the Jewish community. There was fear that some people would lose control of what happened to their bodies after their death and that their families would be powerless. Thankfully, that will not now be the case.

Politicians describe the new system as ‘opt out’, or, to use legal language, ‘deemed consent’.

However, the Board of Deputies and other communal stakeholders worked closely with civil servants and Government to ensure safeguards are in place to protect individuals from becoming an organ donor without their consent. Critically, communication with families under all circumstances is upheld as ‘essential’ throughout.

It is relatively straightforward to ensure your wishes are respected, whether you want to be a donor, you want to be a donor subject to certain considerations, or you do not want to donate under any circumstances.

If you want to donate, there is a continued emphasis on eliminating any doubt of the potential organ donor’s wishes before organ donation goes ahead. It is vital that we and our loved ones trust the system. A lack of trust in the system was expressed as a major concern by other minority groups during the pre-legislation consultations.

If at all possible, we must eliminate any confusion about our wishes around organ donation. If our loved ones are unclear about what we wanted, this creates family distress.

If an individual has not actively expressed consent, their family (or a nominated person) can give information that would guide the specialist nurse who works with families of potential organ donors. This will enable them to understand whether the person did not want to be a donor, and so donation should not proceed, or that donation should proceed in line with faith considerations and religious beliefs. 

If an individual has not actively expressed consent, and family, close friend or nominated person cannot be reached, then organ donation should not go ahead.

If religious beliefs are important to you, we recommend that the first step to take when coming to a decision is speak to your Rabbi or religious authority. You should communicate the decision you have reached clearly to your family. And then you should log that decision on the Government’s online Organ Donor Register (ODR) at www.organdonation.org.uk.

The changes mean that you can now indicate not only consent/non-consent, but also that faith is important to you on the ODR, which is used to guide professionals in dealings with the families of potential organ donors. There is also a statement on how professionals will communicate with your family, and how they will be allowed to discuss the decision with your religious authorities if that is what you want.

The Board of Deputies is working with all Jewish religious authorities to ensure that families of potential organ donors can be provided with a phone helpline from which they can seek Rabbinic advice. Healthcare professionals will be able to provide this number to families, and will also be able to consult it themselves.

With these safeguards in place, everyone can be encouraged to engage in the system, so we can save as many lives as possible by organ donation carried out in accordance with our Jewish values.

About the Author
Amanda is a Vice President at the Board of Deputies and represents The Hampstead Synagogue on the Board. She was one of the first cohort of the Dangoor Senior Leadership Programme, run by LEAD
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