Hodgkin Lecture: Organ Donation and Halacha

Rabbi Dr Abraham Levy (patron of the Association) arranged for sponsorship of this meeting by Montefiore College, and explained to the large audience that the occasion had been designated in honour of Dr Thomas Hodgkin, the British physician who accompanied Sir Moses Montefiore on his travels. Hodgkin died while visiting Israel and his grave is in Jaffa.

The objective of the meeting was for Rabbi Prof Avraham Steinberg to educate a British audience – both with respect to halacha and to medical issues – about current Israeli practices with respect to organ donation. There were several orthodox dayanim present in the audience who listened attentively for over two hours to Prof Steinberg’s presentation. He outlined how the advent of organ donation had posed problems for observant Jews, and then focussed on one of these, i.e. the issue of determination of death. He explained that the idea of deciding that a potential donor was dead as evidenced by cessation of brain function was a relatively new concept medically, and then detailed how the leading Jewish religious authorities had approached the question. He then explained the Israeli approach, where stringent criteria have to be met to confirm brain stem death and cessation of cerebral blood flow. There is close collaboration between physicians and Rabbis, and the wishes of the family are respected.

After Prof Steinberg’s talk Prof Anthony Warrens described the clinical need for organ donation in the UK. Prof David Katz clarified that the general principle of Jewish participation in organ donation was accepted in the UK by the religious authorities. Current national UK policies recognise that some people accept brain stem death criteria and others do not. These policies aim to recognise explicitly that the donor family is also a bereaved family.

Mr Ari Jesner (brother of the late Yoni Jesner, whose organs were donated following his death in a suicide bomb attack in Israel) gave a moving account of how the family decision in favour of organ donation had been reached.

During the meeting the audience were informed that a draft document has been prepared already which should allow more Jewish people who want to donate their organs after their death to express their wishes in advance. The idea is that this document will allow these prospective Jewish donors to state specifically that, if the question does arise, then they want their family to discuss the matter with their religious authorities, aiming to respect their wishes. This draft document has been discussed with other faith communities and will be considered when NHS Blood and Transplant reviews their current UK procedures in this regard.

 

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