Transplantation and Religions

CHD-UK thought they would add a sub-page in relation to how religions view transplantations. We have always been interested in this and through Donna Mansall, we have not found out and thought we would share.

This page is dedicated to Donna Mansall, who sadly lost her fight for life on the 2nd July 2010 unfortunately a new heart didn’t arrive in time.

Religious Viewpoints

A common question that arises when people are considering organ and tissue donation is, “Does my religion approve of organ donation and transplantation?” Surveys find that few individuals are aware of their own religion’s doctrines regarding organ and tissue donation. In fact, most major religions encourage organ and tissue donation, and many of them at the very least allow their followers to make a personal decision in this regard.

We hope that this list will shed some light on organ and tissue donation issues as it relates to your own religion. In addition, you may wish to contact your clergyperson for more information.

Also remember, that in November, we celebrate National Donor Sabbath. This is the perfect time of the year, before the holidays, to encourage discussion about donation in your own house of worship.

AME (African Methodist Episcopal) and AME Zion (African Methodist Episcopal Zion)

Organ and tissue donation is viewed as an act of neighborly love and charity by these denominations. They encourage all members to support donation as a way of helping others.

Amish

The Amish will consent to transplantation if it is believed to further the well being of the transplant recipient.

John Hostetler, world-renowned authority on Amish religion and professor of anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, states that the Amish believe that, since God created the human body, it is God who heals. However, nothing in the Amish understanding of the Bible forbids them from using modern medical services, including surgery, hospitalization, dental work, anesthesia, blood transfusions or immunization.

Assembly of God

While the church has no official policy on organ and tissue donation, the denomination has been highly supportive of donation in the past. However, the decision to donate is left to each individual.

Baha’i Faith

The Baha’i Faith considers organ and tissue donation a noble thing to do. Provisions must be made to treat the donor’s body with dignity and to bury the remains within one hour’s travel time (from the hospital to the funeral home). The decision to be a recipient of organ or tissue donation is left up to the individual, in consultation with a competent physician.

Baptist

Donation is supported as an act of charity, and the church leaves the decision to donate up to the individual.

Brethren

The church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference in 1993 developed a resolution on organ and tissue donation supporting and encouraging donation. They wrote,
“We have the opportunity to help others out of love for Christ, through the donation of organs and tissues.”

Buddhism

Buddhists believe that organ and tissue is a matter of individual conscience and place high value on acts of compassion. Reverend Gyomay, President and Founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago says, “We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives.” The importance of letting loved ones know their wishes is stressed. Many families will not give permission to donate unless they know their loved one wanted to be a donor.

Buddhists believe that organ and tissue is a matter of individual conscience and place high value on acts of compassion. Reverend Gyomay, President and Founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago says, “We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives.” The importance of letting loved ones know their wishes is stressed. Many families will not give permission to donate unless they know their loved one wanted to be a donor.

In an interview specially obtained for the New York Organ Donor Network in its Spring/Summer 2005 issue of ON THE BEAT, Prof. Robert Thurman stated: “The gift of the body is a very great benefit and a boon, like what you’d call a karmic boon, a karmic advantage to a person.” Prof. Thurman is chair of religious studies and Jey Tsong Khapa professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University in New York City ; president of Tibet House; and a former Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Catholicism

Catholics view organ/tissue donation as an act of charity and love. Transplants are morally and ethically acceptable to the Vatican.

In 1956, Pope Pius XII declared that:
“A person may will to dispose of his body and to destine it to ends that are useful, morally irreproachable and even noble, among them the desire to aid the sick and suffering…this decision should not be condemned but positively justified.”

In August 2000, Pope John Paul II told attendees at the International Congress on Transplants in Rome :
“Transplants are a great step forward in science’s service of man, and not a few people today owe their lives to an organ transplant. Increasingly, the technique of transplants has proven to be a valid means of attaining the primary goal of all medicine – the service of human life……There is a need to instill in people’s hearts, especially in the hearts of the young, a genuine and deep appreciation of the need for brotherly love, a love that can find expression in the decision to become an organ donor.”

In the Summer/Fall 2001 issue of On the Beat, a publication of the New York Organ Donor Network, His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, wrote that, in thinking about the glorious gift of life God has given each of us, one of the greatest ways an individual can honor that gift is being an organ donor. Click here for full article

In His Encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae (On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life), His Holiness, Pope John Paul II speaks of society’s fascination with a “culture of death.” He calls on Catholics and people of good faith everywhere to move from that culture towards a celebration and reflection of the glory of God in a “culture of life.”

When asked to share my thoughts on the importance of organ donation for this publication, it was Evangelium Vitae that immediately came to mind. In thinking about the glorious gift of life God has given each of us, it would seem that one of the greatest ways an individual can honor that gift is by making a conscious decision to be an organ donor – a decision that enables another’s life to continue – and in a very real and tangible way promotes “a culture of life.”

Organ donation is, as His Holiness has stated, “a genuine act of love.” The commitment of one person to give the gift of life to another person mirrors an essential foundation upon which the teachings of Christ and the theology of our Church are based. As Saint John tells us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) By knowingly choosing the donations of one’s bodily organs, one is acting as Christ would act – giving life to humanity.

The Catholic Church views organ donation as an act of charity. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a set of principles that guide the healing mission of the Church, clearly explains the permissibility of organ donations. In Directive No. 30, we read “The transplantation of organs from living donors is morally permissible when such a donation will not sacrifice or seriously impair any essential bodily function and the anticipated benefit to the recipient is proportionate to the harm to the donor…” Similarly, Directives No. 63-66, treat organ donation as follows: Directive No. 63: “Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the means whereby those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of their organs and bodily tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so that they may be used for donation and research after death.” Directive No. 64: “Such organs should not be removed until it has been medically determined that the patient has died. In order to prevent any conflict of interest, the physician who determines death should not be a member of the transplant team.”

The donation of organs in a morally acceptable manner, at the end of life, offers the gifts of health and life to those who are most vulnerable and who are at times without hope. It is one of the many pro-life positions an individual can choose in order to foster a culture that values life in our world.

As to what criteria constitute a “morally acceptable manner,” it is essential that organ transplantation occur in the context of love and respect for the dignity of the human person. There are, of course, parameters in determining when and how organs should be donated. It is the Church’s position that transplanted organs never be offered for sale. They are to be given as a gift of love. Any procedure that commercializes or considers organs as items for exchange or trade is morally unacceptable. The decision as to who should have priority in regards to organ transplantation must be based solely on medical factors and not on such considerations as age, sex, religion, social standing or other similar standards.

In addition, it is of the utmost importance that informed consent by the donor and/or donor’s legitimate representatives be had and that vital organs, those that occur singly in the body, are removed only after certain death (the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity) has occurred.

As Pope John Paul II observes in Evangelium Vitae “There is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures and sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs in a morally acceptable manner.”

It is for the betterment of humanity, for the love of one’s fellow human beings, that organ donation is undertaken. One of the most powerful ways for individuals to demonstrate love for their neighbor is by making an informed decision to be an organ donor.

Order free copies of the New York Organ Donor Network Catholic brochure: Email or phone 1-800-GIFT-4-NY.

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Christian Church encourages organ and tissue donation, stating that individuals were created for God’s glory and for sharing of God’s love. A 1985 resolution, adopted by the general assembly, encourages “… members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to enroll as organ donors and prayerfully support those who have received an organ transplant.”

Christian Science

The Church of Christ Scientist does not have a specific position regarding organ and tissue donation. The question of organ and tissue donation is an individual decision. According to the First Church of Christ Science in Boston, Christ Scientists normally rely on spiritual means of healing instead of medical. They are free, however, to choose whatever form of medical treatment they desire-including a transplant.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)

The donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that often results in great benefit to individuals with medical conditions. The decision to will or donate one’s own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs or tissue from a deceased family member, is made by the individual or the deceased member’s family. The decision to receive a donated organ should be made after receiving competent medical counsel and confirmation through prayer.

Church of the Nazarene

The Church encourages members who do not object personally to support donor and recipient anatomical gifts through living wills and trusts. Further, the Church appeals for morally and ethically fair distribution of organs to those qualified to receive then (Manual, Church of the Nazarene 1997 – 2001, paragraph 904.2).

Episcopal

The Episcopal Church passed a resolution in 1982 that recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ, blood, and tissue donation. All Christians are encouraged to become organ, blood and tissue donors “as part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave his life that we may have life in its fullness.”

Evangelical Covenant Church

A resolution passed at the Annual Meeting in 1982 encouraged members to “sign and carry Organ Donor Cards.” The resolution also recommended “that it becomes a policy with our pastors, teachers, and counselors to encourage awareness of organ donation in all our congregations.”

Gypsies (Roma)

Gypsies are a people of different ethnic groups without a formalized religion. They share common folk beliefs and tend to be opposed to organ and tissue donation. Their opposition is connected with their beliefs about the afterlife. Traditional belief contends that for one year after death, the soul retraces its steps. Thus, the body must remain intact because the soul maintains its physical shape.

Hinduism

According to the Hindu Temple Society of North and South America, Hindus are not prohibited from donation as confirmed by religious laws. This act is an individual’s decision. H. L. Trivedi, in Transplant Proceedings, stated, ” Hindu mythology has stories in which the parts of the human body are used for the benefit of other humans and society. There is nothing in the Hindu religion indicating that parts of humans, dead or alive, cannot be used to alleviate the suffering of other humans.”

Independent Conservative Evangelical

Generally, Evangelicals have no opposition to organ and tissue donation. Each church is autonomous and leaves the decision to donate up to the individual.

Islam

The religion of Islam strongly believes in the principle of saving human lives. According to A. Sachedina in his Transplant Proceedings article, “Islamic Views on Organ Transplantation, “…the majority of the Muslim scholars, belonging to various schools of Islamic law, have invoked the principle of priority of saving human life and have permitted the organ transplant as a necessity to procure that noble end.”

Jehovah’s Witness

Jehovah Witnesses believe donation is a matter of individual decision. However, restrictions apply pertaining to blood transfusion. According to the National Headquarters, the Watch Tower Society, Jehovah Witnesses are often presumed to be opposed to donation because of their belief against blood transfusion. However, this merely means that all blood must be removed from the organs and tissues before being transplanted. In addition, it would not be acceptable for an organ donor to receive blood as part of the organ recovery process.

Judaism

All four branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist) support and encourage donation. For more information and free brochures, click here.

Order free copies of the Reform Judaism Brochure on Organ and Tissue Donation, published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Department of Jewish Family Concerns, co-sponsored by Women of Reform Judaism. email or phone 1-800-GIFT-4-NY.

Lutheran

In 1984, the Lutheran Church in America (Missouri -Synod) passed a resolution stating that donation contributes to the well-being of humanity and can be “an expression of sacrificial love for a neighbor in need.” They call on “members to consider donating organs and to make any necessary family and legal arrangements, including the use of a signed donor card.”

Mennonite

Mennonites have no formal position on donation, but are not opposed to it. They believe the decision to donate is up to the individual and/or their family.

Mormon

See Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Moravian

The Moravian Church does not have an official policy addressing organ/tissue donation or transplantation. Robert E. Sawyer, President, Provincial Elders Conference, Moravian Church of America, Southern Province states, “There is nothing in our doctrine or policy that would prevent a Moravian pastor from assisting a family in making a decision to donate an organ.” It is, therefore, a matter of individual choice.

Orthodox Christian Church

Nothing in the Orthodox Church tradition requires the faithful to donate their organs to others; nevertheless, this practice may be considered an act of love, and as such is encouraged. The decision to donate a duplicate organ, such as a kidney, while the donor is living, should be made in consultation with medical professionals and one’s spiritual father. The donation of an organ from a deceased person is also an act of love that helps to make possible for the recipient to live a longer, fuller life. Such donations are acceptable if the deceased donor had willed such action, or if surviving relatives permit. In all cases, respect for the body of the donor should be maintained. Organ transplants should never be commercialized nor coerced nor take placed without proper consent, nor place in jeopardy the identity of the donor or recipient. Nor should the death of the donor be hastened in order to recover organs for transplantation to another person.

Pentecostal

Pentecostals believe that the decision to donate should be left up to the individual.

Presbyterian

Presbyterians encourage and support donation. They respect a person’s right to make decisions regarding their own body. During their General Assembly in 1995, they wrote a strong support of donation and commented that they “encourage its members and friends to sign and carry Universal Donor Cards…”

Protestantism

Because of the many different Protestant denominations, a generalized statement on their attitudes toward organ/tissue donation cannot be made. However, the denominations share a common belief in the New Testament. (Luke 6:38 Give to others and God will give to you.) The Protestant faith respects individual conscience and a person’s right to make decisions regarding his or her own body. In addition, it is generally not believed that resurrection involves making the physical body whole again.

In the Winter/Spring 2002 issue of On the Beat, a publication of the New York Organ Donor Network, the Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister, The Riverside Church of New York City, wrote that “…becoming a donor takes on sacramental meaning. Organ and tissue donation is considered to be the ultimate humanitarian act of benevolence.”

Medical technology which has made organ and tissue transplantation possible opens up new opportunities for human beings to become partners with God in sustaining and extending the precious gift of life. The fact that we can donate an organ while we live without compromising our health should lead us to exclaim: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14 NRSV) Even death cannot prevent us from making a magnanimous offering of new hope for those desperately clinging to life until an appropriate donor has been identified.

Some of the most touching moments of human compassion are associated with organ and tissue transplantation: a mother to a child, a sister to a brother, a neighbor to a neighbor, and stranger to a stranger. Dr. Wyatt T. Walker, Pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church of New York City and former Chief of Staff for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., loves to preach about such an event, which for him became a moment of revelation. He tells of an interview he saw on national TV following a fatal mass shooting at a school in Paducah, Kentucky. The reporter asked the mother of one of the slain students what her first thoughts were after being informed of the shootings. The mother said she rushed to the hospital hoping that her daughter had survived. “And after you were told that she had passed, what was your next thought?” The mother said, “I hoped that it would be possible for someone to receive the gift of life from her through an organ donation.” The little girl was white. Interestingly, the best friend of the little white girl was a black girl. They called each other “my twin sister.” It turns out that the little girl’s heart was donated to a black man. When the mother was finally able to visit the gentleman who had received her daughter’s heart, she had one request: “May I place my ear on your chest so that I can hear the heart of my wonderful daughter?” Perhaps heaven was also monitoring that episode of sublime human love.

As wonderful as such moments are some persons are still not sure if offering an organ is compatible with the demands of their faith. Is it pleasing to God to give part of oneself in this way? Shouldn’t we strive at any cost to keep intact all of the parts of the body God gave us? Will we be less whole if a part of us is missing in the “great getting up morning”? Is it mutilation of the flesh to allow some one to take one kidney when the Lord gave us two?

It may be surprising to some to learn that with only a few exceptions all of the major religions affirm and celebrate the godliness of organ and tissue transplantation. Words like caring, sharing, compassion, and sacrifice are at the heart of true religion. The cross, a central Christian symbol, is about Jesus giving himself for the salvation of the world. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that God gave his only son…” With this understanding, becoming a donor takes on sacramental meaning. Organ and tissue donation is considered to be the ultimate humanitarian act of benevolence.

As a protestant minister I think of the following perspectives as I respond to questions regarding organ-tissue transplantation.

  1. Each person of faith needs to order his or her behavior to confirm to a spirit-guided and biblically-nurtured conscience. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23) It is helpful for members of our congregations to discuss the issue with their leaders and to form a solid sense of what is appropriate. Theological discussions in our communities of faith tend to lead to a strong encouragement of organ and tissue donation.
  2. One should not expect proof text from the Bible on this issue. Transplantation was not even a possibility at the time the gospels were being written. There were many things Jesus did not address directly. It is the Holy Spirit who leads us into the ways of enlightenment on matters, which have surfaced in our time. The spirit of generosity and sacrifice are encouraged in all seasons. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Holy deeds of generosity are to be commended.
  3. The opportunity to donate organs and tissues may be one of the most effective ways to counteract the pervasive selfishness of these modern times. The golden rule urges us to think and act from the perspective of what we would desire of others if we were similarly situated.
  4. Christian commitment calls us to show respect for the sanctity of the body. A loving sacrificial offering of the gift of life is a holy honoring of our flesh and blood. To be able to live as good stewards of our bodies, then to extend the lives of others reveals something of the nature of our heavenly parent and our lord, Jesus Christ.
  5. Romans 8:28 reminds us that in everything God is at work to bring good out of whatever happens. It is not appropriate to claim that God wills all the tragic events, which result in the death of any of us. Nevertheless, in such tragic circumstances, there is the good of organ and tissue donation, which upstages the evil, which has occurred.

Finally, so much of life is lived as if our own individual well being is of ultimate significance. Before God, each life is precious and deserving of respect and care. But we are not only individuals before God. We are a family bound by love and mutual care. Organ and tissue donation gives dramatic witness to our interconnectedness. The first citizens of our nation, Native Americans, understood this. Perhaps we will be willing to sign a donor card or make as an organ tissue donation when we recover the spirit of Chief Seattle who inspired Ted Perry to write:

This we know.
All things are connected
Like the blood
Which unites one family…

Whatever befalls the earth,
Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
Man did not weave the web of life;
He is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web,
He does to himself.

Only 2 of these Religious Groups are AGAINST donation COMPLETELY….The Gypsy faith, as well as the believers of Shinto.

Otherwise the MAJORITY of these groups leave it up to the INDIVIDUALS of their congregations to make THEIR OWN decision to donate organs/tissue. In fact some of these religious groups even PROMOTE/ENCOURAGE donation.

Related Links

Donna’s Dream
Organ Donation – Transplants Saves Lives
Help Donna Marshall get a new heart – you can leave messages of condolensces on here.
To view Donna Manson’s personal website
A Call for an Opt-Out Donation System on Facebook