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.