A new UK-wide survey of Jews has found “significant confusion” over organ donation as communal and religious bodies brace themselves for the switch to an “opt-out” system this spring.
The poll of more than 1,100 British Jews of different denominations by the Jewish Organ Donation Association (Joda) found that just under half see Judaism’s position to be “unclear” or “very unclear”.
There were also widely differing beliefs on the topic; one in ten people thought organ donation was always permissible, 17 per cent said it was always prohibited and just over half believed it was sanctioned by Jewish law “under certain circumstances”.
One fifth said they did not know.
There was also a lack of consensus on what constitutes death.
Even though the current mainstream legal definition in England bases it on “brainstem death”, more than a third of Jews thought death occurs “when the heart had stopped beating”.
Joda director Eddie Hammerman highlighted the “significant confusion related to organ donation” while Dr Marc Wittenberg, its medical director, identified a “need to improve knowledge” among both lay members and Jewish religious leaders.
Dr Wittenberg said: “Many respondents […] would be willing to donate their organs but feel held back by the lack of religious guidance. This means that there are undoubtedly people in desperate need of an organ transplant who are potentially missing out.”
The change in the law will mean members of the public will be, by default, on the organ donor register. It is thought roughly one in 100 people who die in the UK are eligible to have their organs donated.
The Chief Rabbi’s office told the JC that, after 18 months’ consultation with the NHS, “we hope to be able to make a positive announcement in the coming weeks”.
The Manchester Beth Din advised practising Jews to opt out of donating their organs, but deferred to the opinion of individual community rabbis.
Liberal Judaism urged its members to support the new system, saying that “saving a human life is the greatest mitzvah of all”.