The Welsh Assembly’s approval this week of a new system of organ donation has been criticised by the Board of Deputies.
Rather than the current UK practice of donors agreeing to their organs being used, doctors in Wales will be able to take organs unless the person has previously indicated objections.
But Professor David Katz, a senior Board member responsible for medical issues, said that it was “disappointing” that the Bill had been approved and the arguments of faith groups against it disregarded.
Stanley Soffa, chairman of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council, which had joined other religious groups in lobbying against the proposal, said he was “disappointed, but not surprised”.
While the council believed that the change was “well intentioned,” he said, “the way they have gone about it is wrong.”
According to the assembly, “a person’s consent to donation will be presumed to have been given unless they objected during their lifetime”.
But relatives will have the opportunity to argue why a person would have objected to the use of their organs before removal.
The change from an “opt-in” to an “opt-out” system, which is due to come into effect in 2015, was welcomed by Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism. “I’m delighted,” he said. “It accords with the principle of pikuach nefesh [saving a life]. There are children and adults dying because of a lack of organs and we are burying and cremating perfectly usable organs. To me, this doesn’t seem morally defensible”.
One of the problems for Orthodox Jews is the criterion doctors use to determine death. While some rabbinic authorities permit the use of brain-stem death, the Chief Rabbi and London Beth Din adhere to the more conservative line of cardio-respiratory death, when both heart and lungs have stopped.
Professor Katz said that “the position of the Jewish community should remain unchanged. This recognises that there is wide support for the principle of organ donation, but not for default organ removal.”
He believed that there was little, if any, evidence that the opt-out system Wales plans to adopt would lead to more organ availability.