I don’t carry an organ donor card. I don’t donate blood. I don’t want to be cremated or have my body donated to science. I have no reason for feeling this way, this is just how I feel. But I am one big contradiction, one big hypocrite. I have allowed nurses to take my blood to run tests. I have had operations. If ever, God forbid, I was to require a blood transfusion or a donor organ, would I refuse it? I doubt it. In fact, if it wasn’t for a blood transfusion I would not be here today because my dad needed one shortly after he was born. So why do I feel this way? Can I make myself change my mind about these things? Is it just fear of death, fear of the unknown, that is holding me back? Or is there more to it than that?
Type in ‘organ donation and heaven’ into Google and all the results that appear on the first page are all about awareness. Mainly Christian, and some Jewish, sites that are trying to convince the reader to join an organ donor register and to tell their relatives their wishes should they ever be put in that position. Slogans such as ‘don’t take your organs to heaven’ and ‘heaven knows we need them here’ are commonplace and these websites use an array of biblical quotes to convince their followers that this is the right thing to do. There is emphasis that we came from dust and to dust we will return – in other words, we do not take our physical body with us when we die. Focus too, naturally, is on how Jesus preached that we should love our neighbours, no matter who they are, and that he died to save us. The most interesting point though, to me, was that God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs! Yet despite all this many believe that organ donation is mutilating the body so that resurrection cannot occur as it requires a complete body.
However, Christianity is ambiguous on the necessity of this – ‘our present body is only a tent which we will put aside’ 2 Cor 5:1-3; ‘We will be changed instantaneously when we are raised’ 1 Cor 15:51-53; and ‘people who currently have physical disabilities will not have them in their new bodies’ Isaiah 35:3-5. But, ‘To gain our new body, our current body must die’ 1 Cor 15:35-49. These quotes take account of dying with an imperfect body but not one where part of it still lives on within another body. Perhaps, then, when something is not clear cut, it is all down to interpretation – for it is easy to interpret information into how you want to see it and how you want other people too.
Within the UK all major religions support organ donation and transplants in principle, although the NHS highlights that it still remains an individual’s choice. According to their leaflet on the matter, they explain that Buddhism, for example, holds no position either way on this subject, but like all other religions emphasises that, naturally, the dead must be respected and treated with dignity but people should not be dissuaded from donating as it is seen as an act of generosity. However, different schools of thought vary on the ‘moment of death’ and it is the classification of this that often affects an individual’s viewpoint. In comparison, Hinduism seems quite clear on the subject and includes many references within its scripture. Donation is an integral part of a Hindu’s life, guided by the Vedas and ‘it is said that the soul is invisible… knowing this one should not grieve the body’ Bhagavad Gita 2:25. The Sikh viewpoint is very similar to this. The most controversial viewpoints are within Islam and in 1996 the Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK issued a fatwa (religious opinion) on organ donation which resolved that organ transplantation is OK as a means of alleviating pain or saving life on the basis of the rules of the Shariah. Moreover, Muslims are allowed to carry donor cards and the next of kin , in the absence of a card or an expressed wish to donate their organs, may give permission. However, opinion among is still divided and many scholars do not believe that necessity overrules the prohibition.
Overall, this is an issue very much supported by major religions, within this country at least, but there is particular emphasis on individual choice and ensuring things are done probably (for example, not for profit or without consent). However, there has also been talk in recent years of there being an opt out scheme, as opposed to the current method of registering.
In the course of my research I came across a story – what truth there was in it, I have no idea, but it certainly makes you think – about a young Jewish girl who was being flown to the USA for a life-saving liver transplant. Sadly, she died en route, but when her parents were asked if they were willing to donate any of her viable organs they refused on the basis that their faith prohibited it.
However, I also found the following quote from Robert Test, an ordained Jewish minister, and I will leave you with it:
‘The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet in a hospital […,] a doctor [having] determine[d] that my brain has ceased to function and that […] my life has stopped. When that happens, do not […] call this my deathbed. Let it be called the Bed of Life, and let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives. Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby’s face, or love in the eyes of a woman. Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain. Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play. Give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week. Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to help a [disabled] child walk. Take my cells if necessary, and let them grow so that someday a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her window. If […] you do all I have asked, I will live forever.’