Charedi religious bodies in row over organ donation law

Fears families will be powerless to block new 'deemed consent' system


The two main Charedi religious bodies have become embroiled in a row over impending legislative changes around organ donation, stoking fears that families will be powerless to block “deemed consent”.

Under a new law to come into effect in the spring, known as Max and Keira’s Law, consent for organ donation will be presumed unless individuals officially opt-out.

Although there are a number of interpretations of the Halachah on organ donation, most Charedi rabbis consider it against Jewish law.

In response to rumours that families would be unable to block organ donation without proof of the deceased’s opposition, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) moved to reassure community members last week.

The UOHC ruled that “the NHS guidance and practises are clear that no donation can be considered without engaging the family to ascertain the most recent wish of the deceased”.

It added that this would be the case “even in the event where the deceased chose to opt in”.

Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Lichtenstein, the head of the Beth Din of the Federation of Synagogues, disputed the UOHC’s warning, saying “the law considers all adults as potential organ donors based on their ‘deemed consent’. Unless a person opts out it is considered as though they have agreed to donate their organs”.

He added: “If family members seek to prevent the donation of the deceased’s organs, they will have to provide proof that the deceased expressed their opposition to the donation.

“It is a Torah obligation to opt out and to record this decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register to prevent organs from being taken.”

Although the NHS has attempted to reassure the public that family members will be consulted and involved in decision-making, a senior British Charedi source said that there is a high degree of “mistrust of the government and health service”.

Before organ donation goes ahead, families will be approached to confirm the deceased’s “last known decision”, according to official guidelines.

A draft code of practice, which will be put before Parliament in the New Year, specifies that the approach to families “will not change or be affected by the law change. Families are currently approached before donation goes ahead, and this will continue to happen after the law changes.”

It reads: “The family plays a key role in the donation process. The nature of the role with respect to consent will depend on a number of factors including whether consent has been expressly given by the potential donor, whether the circumstances are such that consent may be deemed, or whether the family will be asked to make the decision.”

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