Every organ donor can save eight lives. With 106,000 people in the U.S. currently on the transplant waiting list, organ donation is a vital gift. This is true whether it’s someone’s last act or if they’re a living donor.
But what do the world’s religions say about donating organs, eyes, or tissues? Is giving or receiving an organ aligned with the teachings of various faiths?
No major religions outright forbid a person from giving their organs. Some have mixed views on certain aspects of it. But most faiths fully support organ donation as an act of generosity that saves lives.
Every 10 minutes, another person joins the transplant waiting list. Considering this, that generous gift can save lives.
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Organ Donation and Religion
Many religions don’t seem to have a stance on organ, tissue, and eye donation either way. But, the most widely held belief is that it is an act of charity. Without a formal stance against it, many people of that faith usually think of it as allowed.
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) catalogs the stance of many religions on organ donation. They have found that this more passive approach is common.
If you have questions about your faith’s approach to giving organs, seek the counsel of a clergyperson or faith elder. You may also want to discuss it with the person your family might turn to if you get really sick. If your family seeks their council, they can confirm your wishes.
A Look at Different Faiths
Many religions have made statements about organ and tissue donation. Others have outlined certain ways of thinking that suggest support (or at least don’t prohibit it).
This is not a thorough list of every religion’s stance but a broad sample of faiths across the U.S.
African Methodist Episcopal (AME and AME ZION)
Both African Methodist Episcopal faiths support giving organs and cheer it as an act of love.
A 2014 review shows African Americans may worry that organ donation goes against religious beliefs. Talking to a faith leader can help people work through these questions.
Buddhism doesn’t take a formal stance either way. They believe that it’s a person’s choice.
A Buddhist may hold an idea about when the moment of death occurs that is different from the view of someone in Western medicine. This is why some Buddhists may object to organ donation even when someone is declared dead by Western standards.
The Buddhist tradition values being caring and generous. A person who wants to donate may view giving organs through this lens.
The Catholic Church approves and supports giving organs and tissues. Various popes have spoken about it as an act of charity and love.
In 2019, Pope Francis made a statement outright supporting organ donation. That is, as long as it is for the good of others and not to make money.
In 1982, The Episcopal Church passed a resolution supporting organ donation. It noted that giving organs, blood, and tissue saves lives. The Church cheers members who become organ donors.
While there is no formal Greek Orthodox stance, leaders in the church have called it an act of love. As long as the process doesn’t harm anyone and the decision is freely made, it’s thought of as a loving, generous act.
Hindu law and scripture don’t prohibit organ donation. It’s widely seen as a good and generous act.
Because reincarnation is part of the Hindu faith, people wonder how this might impact giving organs. For example, if a person donates their eyes, does that mean they will not have sight in the next life?
According to a piece in Hinduism Today, that’s not what Hindus believe. The article quotes a Hindu leader saying, “it is wrong to say that if you donate eyes in this birth, next birth you would be born without eyes.”
Islam supports giving organs and has no law against it when done freely and without causing harm.
The Fiqh Council of North America recently made Islam’s stance clear. It said, “done with a good intention, organ donation may be regarded as a rewarded act of charity.”
While Jehovah’s Witnesses do not support blood transfusions, they are not opposed to giving organs. They don’t believe the Bible takes a stance either way when it comes to donation and transplantation.
Judaism teaches that saving a life is virtuous and strongly supports giving organs. But the issue is a bit murky. Not all organs save lives right away. “Jewish law only allows organ donation if it can be ensured that the organs will indeed be used to save lives,” writes Aron Moss for Chabad.org.
Does this mean it’s not allowed if doctors end up storing or discarding the organs? It also gets complex when removing organs from someone with no brain activity but a beating heart.
A great deal of careful, scholarly work tries to answer these questions. However, it’s always best to consult directly with your rabbi.
In 2004, The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a resolution on organ donation. It said that giving organs is an act of stewardship that improves the health and well-being of human beings. It urged Lutherans to consider giving organs, tissue, and whole blood when possible.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has taken no formal stance on organ donation. But most Mormons believe it’s a selfless gift that saves lives and doesn’t interfere with the idea of resurrection. Ultimately, it’s a personal decision.
Presbyterians actively support giving organs and applaud people to become organ donors. The Presbyterian Church formally notes the life-giving effect of organ donation.
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Quakers don’t have a formal stance on organ donation. They leave it up to the person.
Southern Baptist Convention
In 1988, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution supporting giving organs. It called it unselfish and said it was a way to be compassionate and relieve suffering. The resolution clarified that resurrection “does not depend on bodily wholeness at death.”
United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ supports giving organs and doesn’t consider it controversial. Rev. Jay Lintner, a faith leader, said, “United Church of Christ people, churches, and agencies are extremely and overwhelmingly supportive of organ sharing.”
United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church wholly supports giving organs as a gift and a way to give back to humanity. It celebrates organ donation every November.
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