Organ Donation

Do you have an organ donation sticker on your driver’s license? I do not, but I have never really been opposed to someone doing such a thing. This past week, I have had to think more about the issue after reading the following excerpts from books I have read for classes.

First…

“As part of or alongside a Living Will, more and more people are donating their organs after death to be used to benefit the living. This practice may well be encouraged by the pastor” (Norbert H. Mueller and George Kraus eds. Pastoral Theology [St. Louis: Concordia, 1990], 146).

Then…

“The body, as the place of personal presence, has its own integrity, which ought to be respected. Indeed, because we are regarded as stewards rather than owners of our bodily life, the Roman Catholic and Jewish traditions generally forbade self-mutilation. These traditions have become willing to approve the self-giving of organs or tissues for transplantation as long as the donation will not cause grave harm to the donor’s bodily life….In general, therefore, we may regard donation of a kidney or of bone marrow as significantly different from donation of heart, lung, or liver…Yet, a living donor’s gift even of tissue or a paired organ (such as a kidney) should not simply be affirmed as if it were morally uncomplicated. Doctors have in the past been hesitant to transplant kidneys from living, unrelated donors, and it is good that they should be. We should want them to be reluctant to subject a healthy person to the risks of a major operation and the loss of one kidney even if that person is eager to make this bodily gift. It is true, of course, that we ought always be ready to risk harm to ourselves for the sake of others. But it is one thing to aim at my neighbor’s good, knowing that in so doing I may be harmed; it is another to aim at my own harm in order to do good to my neighbor. Thus, even when we approve donation (of, for example, a kidney) from a living donor, we should retain a lively sense of the moral complexity of such an act” (Gilbert Meilaender, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005], 88-89).

So what do you think?

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11 thoughts on “Organ Donation

  1. I am a donor.

    What happens to my body after I die is of no consequence to me. Treat it with dignity, out of respect for God creations, and my heirs and loved ones.

    But if someone can use it for good, then so be it. If they want to use it for evil, they will have to answer to God.

  2. I’m curious…when would someone “aim at [thier] own harm in order to do good to [their] neighbor.” Don’t we always “aim at [our] neighbor’s good, knowing that in so doing [we] may be harmed” in organ donation?…I guess unless someone intentionally hurt/killed himself so that he could donate an organ that he would otherwise have been unable to donate? It doesn’t seem like this would happen very often.

  3. Choosing to be identified as an organ-donor on your driver’s license doesn’t do anything at all. The family of the potential donor will make the decision if it needs to be made, and what you have on your driver’s license won’t mean a thing.

    If you want to be an organ donor, then make sure your family knows your intention; likewise if you don’t want to be an organ donor. It’s the surest way you have of having your wishes honored – far surer in most states than a “living will,” which usually isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. Where your family isn’t sure what your wishes would be, a “living will” can be useful to them in determining what you want. (They still don’t have to honor your wishes, though.)

  4. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services provides the following guidance on organ donatio for Catholics: “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 done to the donor. Furthermore, the freedom of the donor must be respected, and economic advantages should not accrue to the donor” (No. 30).

    Receiving any sort of monetary payment (i.e. for blood or plasma donations) is prohibited. I understand the principle – it would be equivalent to placing an economic value on our bodies.

  5. Thanks for the reference, Mary. Would you also happen to have references to instruction regarding organ donations after death? Thanks.

  6. Lawrence,

    on my side of the Atlantic, the website of the Bishops Conference has a paper by a priest who is the Director of their Center of Bioethics.
    He states that such donations are accepted by his church “as far as they’re done in a total respect for human dignity and for the rights of any personn involved” (that would be the family).
    Finally, he states that those donations can and should be seen as a “contemporary form of solidarity” with the many people waiting for a transplant and he affirms the Catholic church encourages its members to go that way, even if it’s only by “tacit” agreement.

  7. So it’s not seen as a spiritual issue, but rather a matter of personal choice as long as human dignity is respected. Sounds good to me.

  8. Lawrence,

    Officially, the Catholic Church has sanctioned posthumous organ donation since 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.” This occurred just prior to Vatican II. Then a few years later, in 1963, cremation of remains was deemed acceptable. Prior to all this, such actions upon a corpse were considered disrespectful to our human bodies, created in the image of God.

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