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 recent Gallup poll found that less than 10 percent were aware that their religion has laws and doctrines governing organ and tissue donation.
Though answers may vary from one denomination to another, research has found that a majority of religions do support organ donation. The following are just a few of the findings:
The Christian faith is based on the revelation of God in the life of Jesus Christ. Throughout his life, Jesus taught people to love one another and he proved his love for the world upon the cross. In keeping with this, Christians consider organ donation as a genuine act of love and a way of following Jesus’ example. This act of love then becomes part of a faith journey that is motivated by compassion to help someone else and demonstrates a sense of social responsibility.
Sacrifice and helping others are consistent themes in Christianity, which teaches the principle of seeking for others what you hope others would do for you. Enabling life to be lived as fully as possible is consistent with the teaching of the Son of God, Jesus Christ:
“…freely you have received, freely give”
Matthew, chapter 10:8
There are no injunctions in Buddhism for or against organ donation. The death process of an individual is viewed as a very important time that should be treated with the greatest care and respect. In some traditions, the moment of death is defined according to criteria which differ from those of modern Western medicine, and there are different views as to the acceptability of organ transplantation. The needs and wishes of the dying person must be compromised by the wish to save a life. Each decision will depend on individual circumstances.
Central to Buddhism is a wish to relieve suffering and there may be circumstances where organ donation may be seen as an act of generosity. Where it is truly the wish of the dying person, it would be seen in that light.
If there is doubt as to the teachings within the particular tradition to which a person belongs, expert guidance should be sought from a senior teacher within the tradition concerned.
When he discovered a monk sick and incared for, the Buddah said to the other monks,
“Whoever would care for me, let him care for those who are sick”.
Mahavagga VIII.26.1-8 Kucchivikara-vatthu
The Monk with Dysentery. Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
There are many references that support the concept of organ donation in Hindu scriptures. Daan is the original word in Sanskrit for donation meaning selfless giving. In the list of the ten Niyamas (virtuous acts) Daan comes third. Life after death is a strong belief of Hindus and is an ongoing process of rebirth. The law of karma decides which way the soul will go in the next life.
Organ donation is an integral part of the Hindu way of life, as guided by the Vedas. That which sustains is accepted and promoted as Dharma (righteous living). Scientific treatises form an important part of the Vedas – Sage Charake deals with internal medicine while Sage Sushruta includes features of organ and limb transplants.
“…it is said that the soul is invinsible…knowing this you should not grieve for the body.”
Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2:25
In Islam the Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK issued a fatwa (religious opinion) on organ donation. The council resolved that”
- the council support organ transplantation as a means of alleviating pain or saving life on the basis of the rules of the Shariah.
- Muslims may carry donor cards.
- The next of kin of a dead person, in the absence of a card or an expressed wish to donate their organs, may give permission to obrain organs from the body to save other people’s lives.
The fatwa is based on the Islamic principle of al-darura tubih al-mahzurat (necessities overrule prohibition). Normally, violating the human body, whether living or dead, is forbidden in Islan – but the Shariah believes this can be overruled when saving another person’s life.
However there are also a a significant number of Muslim scholars who believe that organ donation is not permissible and hold the view that this does not fall under the criteia of the Islamic principle of al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat (necessitites overrule prohibition) due to other overriding Islamic principles.
Both viewpoints take their evidence from the Qur’an and the Ahaadith and therefore individual Muslims should make a decision according to their understanding of the Shariah or seek advice from their local Iman or scholar.
The Muslim Law Council UK fatwa draws on one of the basic aims of the Muslim fiath: saving life.
“Whosoever saves the life of one person it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.”
Holy Qur’an, chapter 5:32
Contrary to common myth, all Jewish denominations encourage organ and tissue donation. The mitzvah of saving a life, pikuach nefesh, is considered one of Judaism’s highest values (Hadassah – Pikua Nefesh)
In principle, Judaism supports and encourages organ donation in order to save lives. This can sometimes override the strong objections to any unnecessary interference with the body after death, and the requirement for immediate burial of the complete body.
It is understandable that there will be worries about organ donation. At a time of stress and grief, linked to sudden unexpected illness and death, reaching a decision about donation can be difficult for a family. It is at this time that halachic guidance is so important.
Judaism insists that no organ may be removed from a donor until death. Judaism insists that honour and respect are due to the dead (kavod hamet). After donation, the avoidance of unnecessary further interference with the body, and the need for immediate interment, are again of prime concern.
“One who saves a single life – it is as if he has saved an entire world.”
Pirke D’Rav Eliezer, chapter 48
Sikh philosophy and teachings place great emphasis on the importance of giving and putting others before oneself.
It als stresses the importance of performing noble deeds and there are many examples of selfess giving and sacrifice in Sikh teachings by the ten Gurus and other Sikhs.
Sikhs belive life after death is a continuous cycle of rebirth but the physical body is not needed in this cycle – a person’s sould is their real essence.
“The dead sustain their bond with the living through virtuous deed.”
Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, p 143
Religious views information obtained from UK Transplant