In a previous post, I had a humorous account of someone who wanted to be an “organ donor” but wanted the organ to be an actual pipe organ to be given to his church. That post led to requests for what the Church thought on actual organ donations (kidneys, eyes, ect.) from Catholics. So, I shall give a basic answer about “organ donation” in this post, as well as first talk about special donations that Catholic-Christians can make that will extend a blessing to fellow congregants for a long time.
As we get started,you might be wondering about the earlier blog. Yes, it was based on a similar account I heard about in a parish. Someone approached the pastor there and asked if he could give to the church a very grand and expensive organ. As a senior, it was part of his “will” to bless people he would leave behind after death. He also did not want to wait until his passing away for the church to have her organ. The pastor and the parish very gladly accepted his offer of a specific “Allen” organ, and it was installed soon, and everyone today is enjoying it in the church at their liturgies. It even plays automatically, so that during confessions and prior to Sunday Masses, it plays selections that brings a devotional atmosphere to the church, even without an organist present. The organ even has a remote and automatic control.
People have left to their parish churches some very special gifts, left in their will. Some sizable money bequethals have been left; some deeds to adjoining land-real estate, and some specific gifts such as chalices, new baptismal fonts, and vestments (and even organs)! They have been wonderful surprises to those congregations and their pastors. It became so meaningful in parishes that they were deemed as “family” by a person who was working out their legal (financial estate) will. In my first parish, I can recall a woman (and surviving husband) who left to the parish the funds to erect a beautiful and expensive statue of the Savior in her name. With the other parish priests, I prayed the Mass of Christian Burial and internment; some weeks later the Italian marbel statue arrived in a crate from overseas, and was placed permanently in a prominent parish circle out in front of the church. If you drive past St. Mary’s Rockville, where the three-way road traffic crossing fronts the church, then you will see the statue of Jesus, day and night. Thousands upon thousands of motorists see it each day, waiting at that light. I bet some see it and are inspired to say a short prayer or to think of Jesus.
In another example, I recall how a large monetary donation left to a parish church in Southeast Washington came to them just in a nick of time. Someone had left the donation as part of their “will.” What a nice blessing it was! As the pastor related to me, it helped the parish tremendously during a particular financial crunch for them. Special donations do mean a lot to a parish. They don’t happen much, yet when they do they’re a big blessing.
What does the Church think about organ donations, and for that matter, giving to others our own bodily parts, and even temporarily donating our body to science? Generally, she is in favor of it.
Firstly, if it is fair and just and voluntary that we donate to another, such as in a kidney, than we could apply this as a modern way of heeding Jesus’ message to “heal the sick(Matt.10:8).” All through the gospels does Jesus show care for the sick, while encouraging his disciples to show the same compassion. Last Sunday’s Lukan Gospel highlighted a Parable of the Good Samaritan who was “moved with compassion” to approach and help a stranger in an extraordinary way. We could say that organ donation can be an act of compassion of some extraordinary means. On healing, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) reminds us in #1509 “Heal the Sick! The Church..strives to carry it out by taking care of the sick as well as by accompanying them with her prayer of intercession. She believes in the life-giving Presence of Christ, the Physician of souls and bodies… (Who is) the bread that gives eternal life and that St. Paul suggests is connected with bodily health (in 1st Cor. 11:30).”
Secondly, the Catechism also speaks on organ donation: In #2296 it says that “Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity.”
So the Church is in favor of it. She adds some specific guidelines, adding: “It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.” We see in the immoral acts of cloning or taking ‘extra’ fetuses as ‘body parts for science” as such a dispicable thing. (Incredibly, some leading persons in the medical profession want to play God and they do so in much disrespect to the sacredness of human life in its various stages, and they want to take parts even from living persons to justify helping another ‘more worthy person’ have the part. What?! It is just sickening that ‘smart’ people in the medical field would be so cold and cruel.) Almost the opposite of such selfish inhumanity would be the selfless and “noble” acts as of organ donors. As Jesus freely gave his body and blood for us, so that we might live, now persons in modern times and medicine have a corporal way to imitate His love, freely, if circumstances permit it. It’s a choice, an option, a way of giving. It IS extra and over and above and beyond the usual to be such a donor, yet more Christians are considering it. I think of one of my fellow priests of the Archdiocese in this moment; he gave up an organ to save the life of one of his parishioners. It was extraordinary, but he felt called by The Lord to do it. He is a retired monsignor who has shown to be self-less in many areas of his life–a great example to me.
[In a smaller but more common practice of "donation," blood donation is a great way to give to your fellow man. It does not ask to much of your time or take anything really away from you. Blood replenishes in us, as part of the normal human process. Yet when blood is needed for a person in a hospital, it needs to be immediately there. Blood donors can be fellow life savers.] Now back to organ donation, but it was good timing for a pitch for blood donors.
Thirdly, organ donation should always be in the manner of one’s free choice to give. Loving is truly always a choice, a will to care from its giver to the other. That truth makes it a concern, then, when there might be a forced donation of one’s body to another. Now, there isn’t the room to posit all the major ethical and moral considerations to organ donation, nor to cover what are the differing views over “the human body” and what constitutes “human life.” We have ethicists and moral theologians in the Church to keep the effort going to present how we think our God wants us to live and act and see things. Yet, fundamentally, there is a problem in our world with those who want to pressure Christ’ believers to accept and bend to the immoral positions and practices of those don’t accept Christ.
Yes, there’s the problem of governmental mandates for fetal-infant ‘parts’ going on today, which is a troubling thing here in the USA and in many other places in the world. That’s a specific concern. Overall, if we would look at the larger picture of what ungodly persons would want to “ask” of society, we notice that some countries/corporations in the world now are considering legislation and measures to require citizens to surrender their bodies to the state immediately upon death. (Does that sound welcome or dangerous to you?) They present it craftfully as a “good” for modern peoples. To me, it’s just evidence that evil still does exist, and it’s anti-life and anti-human and very much against what the Church would preach and practice.
But, with that said, let’s look at this area of organ donations from a holy point of view, and see the good that it might bring.
The free act of donating organs, when done justly and fairly, can bring about a whole lot of true good, with the love of God. When someone makes a plan to be an organ donor, one hardly knows of the holy and good and loving impact it might have ahead for another person. For example, when Governor Casey (PA) was in need of a replacement organ to keep alive, he was informed that a donor match was found. The heart of a man who had passed was donated officially by him for another human’s use. It turned out to be a Pennsylvanian who had been a beneficiary of the Governor’s work in the state. Both were in some sense donors to the other. One in corporal works of mercy via legislation; the other in giving up his heart as a final Christian act of mercy in approach to his death. One was a white American and the other was a black American. It was a touching story to me on many levels.
For some years in St. Mary’s County parishes, I was asked to be a chaplain and member of their Leonardtown Lions Club (and to head up a Leo Club). One of the goals of the Lions is to try to convince adult members to donate eyes upon death. I would help people of faith to confirm that it was “ok for Christians to do.” One of the resources I would point to was of papal writings. In 1991, Pope John Paul spoke on these matters at the First International Congress of the Society for Organ Sharing.(Origins Catholic magazine had published its conclusions.) Then, in John Paul II’s Gospel of Life encyclical, he said in #86 of that document: “[T]he Gospel of Life is to be celebrated above all in daily living, which should be filled with self-giving love for others. . . . Over and above such outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.”
There are many kinds of organ donations/transplants.. There are living ones (inter vivos) and postmortem (cadaver) transplants. Inter vivos transplants could include a donation such as bone marrow or extra kidney. Postmortem transplants refer to donations given after death. These donations typically involve an organ necessary for sustaining life. These would include donations such as a heart, lung, liver, or kidney. Some persons also donate their deceased body to science for a brief time. In the final end, it is returned for a proper Christian burial.
It is probably true that Christians have underestimated the good that can be shared in organ donation, when properly administered. There are needy persons out there who we might be able to help, when our use of our organs is done. To help them is to love them. Plus, science is in need of more study of the human body and its workings. Dignified research could impact the health of future generations.
In the final run, we know that our bodies are temples of the Living God. (1st Cor. 6:19). We also know that God will remake us from our human remains (our “dust,” our dna) and give us a resurrecton of the body. All he will need is a spec of us, or I guess, He has our blueprint saved in Heaven and won’t need anything. Heh, think about it, that if we did donate our eyes to be passed on after our death, would it change God’s plans for our heavenly life, or disrupt anything in His Final Coming Day to raise us?
Probably not, right?, Scripture says that He will raise us up…and bring to us a body and soul immortality… He says in His Word of His plans: “In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; it will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” That sounds great.
What the Lord is doing secretly with us, via our surrendered heart, spirit, body and soul is also a great Scripture of promise:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.(Ezek. 36:26)” NOW THERE’S A “TRANSPLANT” THAT I AM LOOKING FOR! TO GET A NEW HEART AND NEW SPIRIT IN JESUS.
LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF KINGS ON THE THRONE, I AM SINNER IN NEED OF THEE. COME REIGN IN MY SOUL, AND I SHALL BE HOLY, INDEED BECAUSE YOU ARE HOLY. CREATE ME ANEW AND PERMIT ME TO HAVE THE NEW HEART AND NEW SPIRIT WITHIN ME. YOU ARE LORD!