Organ donation scheme should send alarm bells

By Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, November 8, 2012

The recent draft Welsh legislation on human organ transplantation should send alarm bells ringing throughout the Jewish world.

Put simply, it means that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it will be presumed that the deceased agree to donate their organs.

While Judaism views organ donation to save a life as an act of chesed (loving-kindness) of the highest order, there are strict rules governing when and how this may take place and none of these criteria are mentioned at all in this legislation.

For example, an organ such as the heart may only be removed when a person is dead, and no definition of “death” is given in the legislation.

Secondly, organ removal is permitted in Jewish law only when there is an immediate recipient for its use and not merely to be kept in a bank for possible future use: again, the legislation is silent on this matter.

Thirdly, although the bill provides for a person who was in a relationship with the deceased (relative or a friend) to decide if the deceased would have objected or consented to organ donation, this is often neither practical or halachically permissible.

It is often not practical to expect to have such knowledge immediately available after death, eg after a car crash or work accident. And, halachically, unless the deceased has actually empowered a third party to relay his wishes, no other person has the right to arrogate this decision to themselves.

But last and most important is this question. What right allows a government to make presumptions about whether or not a person consented to organ donation?

Is the next step legislation that would allow a kidney transplant from a comatose patient, on the assumption that his kidney would be more useful in a more active individual?

This legislation represents a major shift in governmental thinking about human rights and interference in an individual’s personal property — his or her own body. It has no place in a democratic society, and sets a dangerous precedent that must be opposed.

Last updated: 4:18pm, November 8 2012