Organ Donation: Does my Religion Support it?
This question came up during a recent estate planning design session with a client. My client was Catholic and as a practicing Catholic, I readily knew the answer. But what was the viewpoint about organ donation in other worldwide religions? What was viewpoint about organ donation among the different denominations or "church families" within Christianity? And did it matter if the donor was alive or deceased?
I did some research on this topic and discovered no religion formally forbids donation or receipt of organs, or is against transplantation from living or deceased (cadaveric) donors.
But I also discovered it is not so simple. For example, some Orthodox Jews have a religious objection to “opting in” to organ donation/transplant. Transplantation from deceased donors may be discouraged by Native Americans, Rroma Gypsies, Confucians, Shintoists, and some Orthodox rabbis. Some South Asia Muslim scholars oppose donation from human living and deceased donors because the human body is an "amanat" (trusteeship) from God and must not be desecrated following death, but they encourage xenotransplantation research (the process of grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between members of different species).
No religion formally obliges one to donate or refuse organs. No religion formally obliges one to consider cadaveric organs "a societal resource" or considers organ donation "a religious duty". Some Orthodox Jews and some Islamic scholars have proposed directed organ donation only to people of the same religion.
No religion prefers cadaveric over a living donation, but some Muslim scholars and some Asian religions may prefer living donation over a cadaveric donation. No religion formally forbids non-heart-beating donors (NHBD), cadaveric donation, or cross-over donation. Due to the sanctity of human life, the Catholic Church is against donation from anencephalic donors or after active euthanasia. No religion formally forbids xenotransplantation.
Though all major religions in the world view organ donation as an act of charity or make it clear that it is a decision to be left up to the individual or family, it is important to heed the warning of Pope John Paul II, "Accordingly, any procedure which tends to commercialize human organs or to consider them as items of exchange or trade must be considered morally unacceptable, because to use the body as an object is to violate the dignity of the human person" and later added, "The criteria for assigning donated organs should in no way be discriminatory (i.e., based on age, sex, race, religion, social standing, etc.) or utilitarian (i.e., based on work capacity, social usefulness, etc.)."
In sum, "Organ donation is not only an act of social responsibility but also an expression of the universal fraternity which binds all men and women together.” Pope Francis
Living with your bags packed!
Below is a summary of the major religions’ view on organ donation
AME & AME Zion (African Methodist Episcopal)
Organ and tissue donation is viewed as an act of neighborly love and charity, and members are encouraged to support donations to help others.
The Amish consent to donation if they know it is for the health and welfare of the transplant recipient. They believe that since God created the human body, it is God who heals. However, they are not forbidden from using modern medical services, including surgery, hospitalization, dental work, anesthesia, blood transfusions, or immunization.
Assembly of God
Donation is supported though no official policy has been stated. The decision is left up to the individual.
Buddhists believe organ and tissue donation is a matter that should be left to an individual’s conscience. Reverend Gyomay Masao Kubose, president and founder of The Buddhist Temple of Chicago said, “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 your wishes is stressed.
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Christian Church encourages organ and tissue donation, stating that we were created for God’s glory and for sharing 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.”
The Church of Christ, Scientist
Christian Scientists do not take a specific position on transplants or organ donation. They normally rely on spiritual, rather than medical means for healing. Organ and tissue donation is an issue that is left to the individual church member.
The 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church recommends and urges “all members of this Church to consider seriously the opportunity to donate organs after death that others may live, and that such decision be clearly stated to family, friends, church, and attorney.”
The Greek Orthodox Church supports donation as a way to better human life in the form of transplantation, or research that will lead to improvements in the prevention of disease.
Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating their organs, according to the Hindu Temple Society of North America. In fact, Hindu mythology includes stories in which parts of the human body are used for the benefit of other humans and society. The act is an individual decision.
Independent Conservative Evangelical
Generally, Evangelicals have had no opposition to organ and tissue donation. Donation is an individual decision.
Based on the principles and the foregoing attributes of a Muslim, the majority of Islamic legal scholars have concluded that transplantation of organs as treatment for otherwise lethal end-stage organ failure is a good thing. Donation by living donors and by deceased donors is not only permitted but encouraged. Muslim scholars of the most prestigious academies are unanimous in declaring that an organ donation is an act of merit and in certain circumstances can be an obligation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that the Bible comments directly on organ transplants; hence: decisions made regarding cornea, kidney, and other tissue transplants must be made by the individual. The same is true regarding bone transplants. Jehovah’s Witnesses are often assumed to be opposed to donation because of their belief against blood transfusion. In addition, some Jehovah's Witnesses may not wish to donate their organs because someone else's blood would then flow through them. However, this merely means that all blood must be removed from the organs and tissues before being transplanted.
Pikuach nefesh ((Hebrew: פיקוח נפש, IPA: [piˈkuaχ ˈnefeʃ], "saving a life") describes the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious rule. Therefore, in principle, Judaism sanctions and encourages organ donation in order to save lives. Rabbi Elliott N. Dorff wrote that saving a life through organ donation supersedes the rules concerning the treatment of a dead body. Transplantation does not desecrate a body or show lack of respect for the dead, and any delay in burial to facilitate organ donation is respectful of the decedent. Organ donation saves lives and honors the deceased.
The Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards has stated that organ donations after death represent not only an act of kindness, but are also a “commanded obligation” which saves human lives.
The Lutheran Church passed a resolution in 1984 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 and to make any necessary family legal arrangements, including the use of a signed donor card.”
Mennonites have no formal position on donation, but are not opposed to it. They leave the decision to the individual or his/her family.
The Moravian Church has made no statement addressing organ and 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 or not to donate an organ.” It is, therefore, a matter of individual choice.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes 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 to 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.
Pentecostals believe the decision to donate should be left to the individual.
Presbyterians encourage and endorse donation. It is an individual’s right to make decisions regarding his or her own body. The resolution states, “the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their ministry to others…”
Rroma (Rromani), sometimes also referred to as Roma or Gypsies, tend to not support organ donation. Although the Rroma have no formal resolution, their opposition is associated with their belief in the afterlife. Rroma believe that for one year after a person dies, the soul retraces its steps. All parts of the body must remain intact because the soul maintains a physical shape.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not have an official statement on organ donation, however, donation and transplantation are strongly encouraged. In fact, there are numerous Seventh-day Adventist transplant hospitals.
Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has no official position on organ donation. “Such decisions are a matter of personal conscience,” writes Dr. Steve Lemke, provost of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and fellow of the Research Institute of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
In Shinto, the dead body is considered impure and dangerous, and thus quite powerful. Injuring a dead body is a serious crime. It is difficult to obtain consent from bereaved families for organ donation or dissection for medical education or pathological anatomy because Shintos relate donation to injuring a dead body. Families are concerned that they not injure the itai, the relationship between the dead person and the bereaved people.
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Quakers do not have an official position. They believe that organ and tissue donation is an individual decision.
Organ and tissue donation is widely supported by Unitarian Universalists. They view it as an act of love and selfless giving, according to the Unitarian Universalist Association.
United Church of Christ
“United Church of Christ people, churches and agencies are extremely and overwhelmingly supportive of organ sharing,” writes Rev. Jay Litner, Director, Washington office of the United Church of Christ Office for Church in Society.
“The United Methodist Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors,” reports a church policy statement. In a 2000 resolution the church also “encourages its congregations to join in the interfaith celebration of National Donor Sabbath …another way that United Methodists can help save lives.”
 Cross-over Donations: Patients who cannot be given their own partner's kidney for immunological reasons are given a kidney from the partner of another patient in exchange for a kidney from their own partner
 Anencephaly: congenital absence of all or a major part of the brain