A common question that arises when people are asked to donate their organs and tissues or those of their loved ones is: “Is my decision compatible with my religious beliefs?”
A Gallup Poll found that less than 10 percent were aware that their religion has laws or doctrines governing organ and tissue donation. Though the answers vary from one faith group to another, research from agencies such as the National Kidney Foundation have found that a majority of religions do support transplantation. The following are just a few of those findings:
The Amish will consent to transplantation if they are certain that it is for the health and welfare of the transplant recipient. They would be reluctant to donate their organs if the transplant outcome was considered to be questionable.
Organ transplants are generally approved when they do not seriously endanger the donor and when they offer real medical hope for the recipient. A transplant must offer the possibility of physical improvement and the extension of human life.
Buddhists believe that organ donation is a matter of individual conscience. There is no written resolution on the issue; however, Reverend Gyomay Massao, president and founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago and practicing minister says, “We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives.”
This church makes no prohibitions against organ transplants. As a means of treatment, it is understood to be essentially a medical judgment, in consultation with patient, family and donor or donor’s family.
This church makes no prohibitions against organ and tissue donation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints recognizes that “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.” (Handbook 2: 21.3.7)
The Episcopal Church finds nothing offensive in organ transplants provided the moral integrity of the donor is not violated.
The Evangelical Covenant Church passed a resolution at the Annual Meeting in 1982 encouraging 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.” (Commission on Christian Action; Organ Donor Resolution, 1982)
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.
Gypsies tend to be against organ donation. Although they have no formal resolution, their opposition is associated with their belief in the afterlife. Gypsies 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.
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.
Generally, Evangelicals have had no opposition to organ and tissue donation. Donation is an individual decision.
The Fourth Conference of the Islamic Fiqh Council determined that transplantation offers “clear positive results” if practiced “…to achieve the aims of sharee’ah which tries to achieve all that is good and in the best interests of individuals and societies and promotes cooperation, compassion and selflessness.” Provided that “shar’i guidelines and controls that protect human dignity” are met, “It is permissible to transplant an organ from a dead person to a living person whose life or basic essential functions depend on that organ, subject to the condition that permission be given by the deceased before his death, or by his heirs after his death….” Regarding living donation, it is permissible to transplant organs such as a kidney and or a lung “in order to keep the beneficiary alive or to keep some essential or basic function of his body working.” (Resolutions of Islamic Fiqh Council of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Fourth Conference, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 18-23 Safar 1408 AH/6-11 February 1988 CE)
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not encourage organ donation, but believe it is a matter for individual conscience according to the Watch Tower Society, the legal corporation for the religion. Although the group is often assumed to ban transplantation because of its taboo against blood transfusions, it does not oppose donating or receiving organs. All organs and tissues must be completely drained of blood before transplantation.
Judaism teaches that saving a human life takes precedence over maintaining the sanctity of the human body. Rabbi Moses Tendler states, “If one is in the position to donate an organ to save another’s life, it’s obligatory to do so, even if the donor family never knows who the beneficiary will be. The basic principle of Jewish ethics–‘the infinite work of the human being’ — also includes donation of corneas, since eyesight restoration is considered a life-saving operation.
The ability to transplant organs from a deceased to a living person is considered a genuine medical advancement.
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.
Pentecostals believe the decision to donate should be left to the individual.
The Presbyterian denominations encourage and endorse donation. It is an individual’s right to make decisions regarding his or her own body. The resolution by one Presbyterian denomination, 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…” (Minutes of the 195th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (Louisville: Office of the General Assembly, 1983), 97, 846)
Catholics view organ donation as an act of charity, fraternal love and self-sacrifice. Transplants are ethically and morally acceptable to the Vatican. Pope John Paul II issued a statement in support of organ donation in 1990 when addressing a group of nephrologists. He stated, “The Church has always made the care of the sick one of her principal concerns. In the particular case of renal illness, she invites directors of Catholic institutions to promote awareness of the need for organ donors, while taking into account both the progress made by science and the necessity of overcoming all unjustified risks. Those who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave his life for the salvation of all, should recognize the urgent need for a ready availability of organs for renal transplants a challenge to their generosity and fraternal love.”
The individual and the family have the right to receive or to donate those organs which will restore any of the senses or will prolong the life profitably.
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.
Quakers do not have an official position. They believe that organ and tissue donation is an individual decision.
In 1988, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved that because “resurrection does not depend on body wholeness” and that “organ transplant technology has transformed many lives from certain death to vibrant productivity,” the SBC encourages “voluntarism regarding organ donations in the spirit of stewardship, compassion for the needs of others, and alleviating suffering.” (Resolution on Human Organ Donations, June, 1988)
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 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.
By resolution, “the Church recognizes the life-giving benefits or organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors by signing and carrying cards or drivers’ licenses, attesting to their commitment of such organs upon their death, to those in need, as part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave his life that we might have life in its fullness.”