Religious Views on Organ Donation

A common question that arises when people are asked to donate their organs and tissues or that of their loved ones is:  “Is donation compatible with my religious beliefs?”  Though answers may vary from one religion to another, research has found that the vast majority of religions do support donation and transplantation.  The following is a summary of several major religions and ethnic traditions’ basic beliefs associated with organ donation:

AME & AME ZION (African Methodist Episcopal)
Organ 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.

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 transplant their organs if the transplant outcome was considered questionable. John Hostetler, world renowned authority on Amish religion and professor of anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, says in his book, Amish Society. “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.

The Church has no official policy in regards to donation. The decision to donate is left up to the individual. Donation is highly supported by the denomination.

Transplantation is acceptable if prescribed by medical authorities.  Bahaists are permitted to donate their bodies for medical research and for restorative purposes.

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 as an end in itself is not approved. It must offer the possibility of physical improvement and the extension of human life.

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

Buddhists believe that donation is a matter of individual conscience and place high value on acts of compassion. They emphasize the importance of letting family members know one’s wishes as relates to Donation.  According to Reverend Gyomay Masao, president and founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago and a practicing minister, the Buddhists honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives.

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 in a recent statement said, “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 transplants a challenge to their generosity and fraternal love.” According to Father Leroy Wickowski, Director of the Office of Health Affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago, “We encourage donation as an act of charity. It is something good that can result from tragedy and a way for families to find comfort by helping others. We do caution, however, that the organs are removed only after death and that people’s wishes are respected.”

The Christian Church encourages donation. They believe that humans were created for God’s glory and for sharing God’s love.

The church of Christ Scientists takes no specific position on transplants or organ/tissue donation as distinct from other medical or surgical procedures. According to The First Church of Christ Scientists in Boston, Massachusetts, Christian Scientists normally rely on spiritual rather than medical means for healing. They are free, however, to choose whatever form of medical treatment they desire, including organ/tissue transplantation. The question of organ/tissue donation is the individual decision of church members.

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.”

According to spokesperson, Reverend Dr. Milton Efthimiou, director of the Department of Church and Society for the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, the Greek Orthodox Church is not opposed to organ donation as long as the organs and tissues in question are used to better human life, i.e., for transplantation or for research that will lead to improvements in the treatment and prevention of disease.

Gypsies are a people of different ethnic groups without a formalized religion. They share commonfolk beliefs and tend to be opposed to 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.

Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating their organs according to the Hindu Temple Society of North America. This act is an individual decision.

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

The religion of Islam strongly believes in the principle of saving human lives. According to A. Sachedina in his Transplantation 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 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, however, must be completely drained of blood before transplantation.

Jews believe that if it is possible to donate an organ to save a life, it is obligatory to do so.  Judaism teaches that saving a human life takes precedence over maintaining the sanctity of the human body. A direct transplant is preferred, however. According to Moses Tendler, Ph.D., an orthodox rabbi who is chairman of the biology department of Yeshiva University in New York City and chairman of the Bioethics Commission of the Rabbinical Council of America, “If one is in the position to donate an organ to save another’s life, it is obligatory to do so, even if the donor never knows who the beneficiary will be. The basic principle of Jewish ethics—’the infinite worth of the human being’—also includes donation of corneas, since eyesight restoration is considered a life-saving operation.”

In 1984, the Lutheran Church in America 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.”

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.

The question of whether a person should become an organ and tissue donor or will their body for research after death must be answered from deep within the conscience of the individual involved. Those who seek counsel from the Church on the subject are encouraged to review the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, to implore the Lord for inspiration and guidance, and then take the course of action which would give them a feeling of peace and comfort.

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

Presbyterians encourage and support donation. They respect a person’s right to make decisions regarding their own body.

Encourage and endorse Donation.

Donation and transplantation are strongly encouraged by Seventh-Day Adventists. They have many transplant hospitals, including Loma Linda in California. Loma Linda specializes in pediatric heart transplantation.

In Shinto, the dead body is considered to be impure and dangerous, and thus quite powerful. “In folk belief context, injuring a dead body is a serious crime. . .”, according to E. Narnihira in his article, “Shinto Concept Concerning the Dead Human Body.” “To this day it is difficult to obtain consent from bereaved families for donation or dissection for medical education or pathological anatomy . . . the Japanese regard them all in the sense of injuring a dead body.” Families are concerned that they not injure the itai – the relationship between the dead person and the bereaved people.

donation is believed to be an individual decision. The Society of Friends does not have an official position on donation.

Organ donation is widely supported by Unitarian Universalists. They view it as an act of love and selfless giving.

The United Church of Christ supports and encourages donation.  Reverend Jay Litner, Director, Washington Office of the United Church of Christ Office for Church in Society, states that United Church of Christ people, churches and agencies are extremely and overwhelmingly supportive of organ, tissue, and blood donations.

The United Methodist Church issued a policy statement in regards to donation. In it, they state that “The United Methodist Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of donation, and thereby encourages all Christians to become donors by signing and carrying cards or driver’s licenses, attesting to their commitment of such organs upon their death, to those in need, as a part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave His life that we might have life in its fullness.”

The Wesleyan Church supports donation as a way of helping others.  They believe that God’s “ability to resurrect us is not dependent on whether or not all our part were connected at death.”  They also support research and in 1989 noted in a task force on public morals and social concerns that “one of the ways that a Christian can do good is to request that their body be donated to a medical school for use in teaching.”

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