Donation & Religion

Religious Beliefs About Eye, Organ and Tissue Donation

What does my religious tradition believe about eye, organ, and tissue donation?

This question commonly arises when people are asked to consider the donation of their eyes, organs, and tissue or those of a loved one. No one person or assembly of religious representatives can speak for numerous religious groups. Therefore, it is difficult to state an official position for some religious groups. However, research shows that most religious groups do support eye, organ, and tissue donation and transplantation, so long as it does not hasten or impede the death of the donor. Research also reveals the underlying attitude that unless the group has taken action to prohibit donation and transplantation, it is usually assumed that such donation is permissible.

Each person is encouraged to research his or her religious group’s position on donation and transplantation, as well as other biomedical ethical issues. In addition, each clergy person or religious assembly should keep abreast of any new resolutions or positions adopted at his or her group’s national assembly. It is important to be informed because the family member suddenly faced with making a decision concerning donation of a loved one may be depending on the clergy or assembly to know the position held by his or her Faith. Inability to make an informed decision could leave a family member with a feeling of guilt, regardless of the decision he or she may make.

PLEASE NOTE: These summaries are not intended to take the place of consultation with clergy or independent investigation of one’s religious writings. Please use this information as a starting point in the decision process.

Click a link below to read more about various religious views on donation and transplantation.

Amish
The Amish will consent to transplantation if they believe it is for the well-being of the transplant recipient. The Amish are reluctant, however, to donate their organs if the transplant outcomes are questionable. The Amish generally believe that it is God that created the human body and God that heals it. However, nothing in the Amish understanding of the Bible forbids the use of modern medical services, including surgery, hospitalization, blood transfusions, etc.

Baha’i Faith

Donation: Acceptable
Transplantation: Acceptable
There is nothing in the Baha’i teachings that forbids donation. A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, states “There is nothing in the teachings which would forbid a Baha’i to bequeath his eyes to another or for a hospital; on the contrary it seems a noble thing to do.” In 1968, the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the world-wide Baha’i community, states that “We have not come across anything specific in the writings on transplants of hearts and other organs…and the Universal House of Justice does not wish to make any statements on these points at this time.” In general, Baha’is are encouraged to seek the advice of skilled physicians. Thus, at this point, the decision regarding transplantation is the individual decision of each Baha’i. Baha’is believe the spirit has no more connection with the body after it departs, however, as the body was once the temple of the spirit, Baha’is believe that it must be treated with respect. There is no clergy in the Baha’i Faith; therefore, a Local Spiritual Assembly may be consulted by an individual (or by the family of the departed) for assistance in making a decision regarding donation.

Baptist
Donation: Acceptable
Transplantation: Acceptable
Discussion: Donation is encouraged and supported as it is seen as an act of charity. The Church, however, leaves the decision to donate up to the individual. The nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, adopted a resolution in 1988 encouraging physicians to request organ donation in appropriate circumstances and to “encourage volunteerism regarding organ donations in the spirit of stewardship, compassion for the needs of others and alleviating suffering.” Other Baptist groups have supported eye, organ and tissue donation as an act of charity and leave the decision to donate up to the individual.

Brethren

While no official position has been taken by the Brethren denominations, according to Pastor Mike Smith, there is a consensus among the national Fellowship of Grace Brethren that donation is a charitable act so long as it does not impede the life or hasten the death of the donor or does not come from an unborn child.

Buddhist Faith

Donation:    This is a matter of individual choice.
Transplantation:    Buddhist teaching on the middle path, i.e. the avoiding of extremes, may be applicable to these points. What is medicine to one may be poison to another. Buddhist’s believe that donation is a matter of individual conscience and place high value on acts of compassion.
The importance of letting your loved ones know your wishes is stressed. Many families will not give permission to donate unless they know their loved ones wanted to be a donor.

Catholic Faith

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
Catholics view eye, organ and tissue donation as an act of charity and love. Transplants are morally and ethically acceptable to the Vatican. In 2000, Pope John Paul II stated, “There is a need to instill in people’s hearts, especially in the hearts of the young generation, a genuine and deep appreciation of the need for brotherly love, a love that can find expression in the decision to become an organ donor.”

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The Christian Church encourages eye, organ and tissue donation, stating that we were created for God’s glory and for sharing God’s love. A 1985 resolution, adopted by the General Assembly, encourages “…members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to enroll as organ donors and prayerfully support those who have received an organ transplant.”

Christian Scientists

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The Church of Christ Science does not have a specific position regarding donation. According to the First Church if Christ Science in Boston, Christian Scientists normally rely on spiritual instead of medical means of healing. They are free, however, to choose whatever form of medical treatment they desire, including transplant. The question of donation and transplantation is an individual decision.

Episcopal

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The Episcopal Church passed a resolution in 1982 that recognizes the life-giving benefits of eye, organ, blood, and tissue donation. All Christians are encouraged to become donors “…as part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave His life that we may live in its fullness.”

Greek Orthodox

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The Greek Orthodox Church has no objection, whether doctrinal or moral, to the transplantation of organs used to better human life, i.e., for transplantation or for research as long as the organs and tissue in question will lead to improvements in the treatment and prevention of disease. The reception and donation of organs for this purpose reveal a profound act of loving solidarity and sacrifice among human persons.

Hindu Faith

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
According to the Hindu Temple Society of North America, religious law does not prohibit Hindus from donating their organs. This act is an individual’s decision. H.L. Trivedi, in Transplantation Proceedings, stated that, “Hindu mythology has stories in which the parts of the human body are used for the benefit of other human beings and society. There is nothing in the Hindu religion indicating that parts of humans, dead or alive, cannot be used to alleviate the suffering of other humans.”

Independent Conservative Evangelical

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

Islam

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The religion of Islam believes in the principle of saving human life. According to A. Sachedina in his Transplantation Proceedings article (1990), 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 lives and have permitted the organ transplant as a necessity to procure that noble end.”

Jehovah’s Witness

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
According to the Watch Tower Society, the legal corporation for the religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe donation is a matter of individual decision. They are often assumed to be opposed to donation because of their belief against blood transfusion. However, this only means that all blood must be removed from the organs and tissue before being transplanted.

Jewish Faith

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
All four branches of the Jewish Faith (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist) support and encourage donation. According to Orthodox Rabbi Moses Tendler, Chairman of the Biology Dept. of Yeshiva University in New York and Chairman of the Bioethics Commission of the Rabbinical Council of America, “If one is in the position to donated an organ and to save another’s life it’s obligatory to do so, even if the donor never knows who the beneficiary will be. The basic principles of Jewish ethics-‘the infinite worth of the human being’- also indicates donation of corneas, since eyesight restoration is considered a life-saving operation.” In 1991, the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) approved organ donations as permissible, and even required, from brain-dead patients. The Reform movement looks upon the transplant program favorably and Rabbi Richard Address, Director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Bio-Ethics Committee and Committee on Older Adults, states that “Judaic Responsa materials provide a positive approach and by and large the North American Reform Jewish Community approves of transplantation.” Given the complicated issue and the number of factors that need to be taken into account, it would always be advisable for the parties involved to speak to their Rabbi if circumstances permit.

Lutheran

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The Lutheran Church does not oppose donation and believes that the decision to donate one’s eyes, organs and/or tissue should be left up to the individual. In 1984, the Lutheran Church of America passed a resolution stating that donation contributes to the wellbeing of humanity and can be “…an expression of sacrificial love for a neighbor in need.” The Church calls on its members to consider donating organs and t0 make necessary family and legal arrangements, including the use of a signed donor card.

Mennonite

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
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 the family.

Moravian

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The Moravian Church has made no formal statement addressing eye, organ, and tissue donation or transplantation. Robert E. Sawyer, President, Provincial Elders Conference, Moravian Church of America, southern Province, states, “There is nothing in our doctrine or policy that would prevent a Moravian pastor from assisting a family in making a decision to donate or not to donate an organ.” It is, therefore, a matter of individual choice.

Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The Church made the following policy statement on June 3, 1974: “The question of whether one should will bodily organs to be used as transplants or for research after death must be answered from deep within the conscience of the individual involved. Those who seek counsel from the church on this subject are encouraged to review the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, to implore the Lord for inspiration and guidance, and then to take the course of action which should give a feeling of peace and comfort.”

Pentecostal

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
Pentecostals believe that the decision to donate one’s eyes, organs and tissue should be left up to the individual.

Presbyterian

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

Seventh-Day Adventists

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
Although transplant procedures are carried out at many Seventh Day Adventist institutions around the world, the church has made no formal declaration regarding organ donation and transplantation. They have many transplant hospitals, including Loma Linda, in California. Loma Linda specializes in pediatric heart transplantation.

Shinto

Donation:    Not acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable to some
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. Namihra in his article, “Shinto Concept Concerning the Dead Human Body.” “To this day it is difficult to obtain consent from bereaved families for organ donation…the Japanese regard it in the sense of injuring a dead body.” Families are often concerned that they not injure the itia ~ the relationship between the dead person and the bereaved people.

Society of Friends (Quakers)

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

Unitarian Universalists

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
When the patient and physicians believe that such operations will be beneficial to the patient and when the donor is not harmed, Unitarian Universalists support donation. It is viewed as an act of love and selfless giving.

United Church of Christ

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
Reverend Jay Lintner, Director, Washington Office of the United Church of Christ Office for Church in Society, states: “United Church of Christ people, churches, and agencies are extremely and overwhelmingly supportive of organ sharing. The General Synod has never spoken to this issue because, in general, the Synod speaks on more controversial issues, and there is no controversy about organ sharing, just as there is no controversy about blood donation in the denomination. While the General Synod has never spoken about blood donation, blood donation rooms have been set up at several General Synods. Similarly, any organized effort to get the General Synod delegates or individuals to sign organ donation cards would meet with generally positive responses.”

United Methodist

Donation:    Acceptable
Transplantation:    Acceptable
The United Methodist Church issued a policy statement regarding eye, organ, and tissue donation. In it, they state that: “The United Methodist Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue 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 part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave His life that we may live in its fullness.” A 1992 resolution states, “Donation is to be encouraged, assuming appropriate safeguards against hastening death and determination of death by reliable criteria.” The resolution further states, “Pastoral care persons should be willing to explore these options as a normal part of conversation with patients and their families.”