Other People’s Organs, part 1

Are your kidneys available to me? - Third in a series

the flesh and blood campaignTo paraphrase a truism, churches can be very generous when it comes to other people’s organs.

There are churches in the United Kingdom (not sure about USA yet) that canvas their members for organ donations! Unbelievably, the program is called the Flesh and Blood (fab) campaign. The online article states:

In the past year, an estimated 30,000 churches of all denominations have received information about the fab campaign, and many have taken part in raising the profile of donation. They are equipped to be long-term advocates of donation and provided with practical tools and resources to help churches donate together and generate conversation and discussion about blood and organ donation. (ref)

Yet, there are MANY reasons to NEVER be a kidney donor — Read some of the articles linked in the Living Donor 101 news feed on the bottom right of this webpage.

You wouldn’t think if churches endorse the procedure and practice, that donating a kidney would be risky. Or, perhaps that helps it to be viewed as a sacrificial act.

On the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) website, we find that:

Research into the positions of various religious groups reveals the underlying attitude that unless the group has taken action to prohibit organ or tissue donation and transplantation, it is usually assumed that such donation is permissible. Donation is encouraged as a charitable act that saves or enhances life; therefore, it requires no action on the part of the religious group. (ref)

UNOS presents the positions of many denominations. The Assembly of God statement includes an evangelical ethic:

A fascinating possibility is to imagine the impact if Christian donors were to stipulate that their donated organs be accompanied by a handwritten letter telling of the donor’s life, testimony, and relationship with Christ.

The Presbyterian Church resolved that all Christians should donate:

Therefore, be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognize the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourage all Christians to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave life that we might have life in its fullness…

The United Methodist Church states that organ transplantation is an act of charity but if the medical people are not offering it for free, how could this be true?

We believe that organ transplantation and organ donation are acts of charity, agape love, and self-sacrifice. We recognize the life-giving benefits of organ and other tissue donation and encourage all people of faith to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their love and ministry to others in need.

On UNOS, Christianity, the general category, shows support for organ donation. The Bible passage quoted presumably conflates gifts of healing with donating one’s organs.

The Lord demonstrated with his own life how, even in sorrow, love enables us to embrace the needs of others. We can choose to donate our organs to save the lives of many people. The decision to donate at the end of life is the beginning of healing for many others. Healing and saving life is a great gift. Jesus sent his 12 disciples out with the imperative to heal disease and illness: “Heal the sick…freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

Catholics are especially tender in these matters. I was told of a pro-life organization where a staff member needed a kidney and 20 people in the office volunteered to donate. That gave plenty of options for the medical people to find a match. UNOS quotes His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York:

When asked to share my thoughts on the importance of organ donation for this publication, it was Evangelium Vitae that immediately came to mind. In thinking about the glorious gift of life God has given each of us, it would seem that one of the greatest ways an individual can honor that gift is by making a conscious decision to be an organ donor—a decision that enables another’s life to continue—and in a very real and tangible way promotes ‘a culture of life.’

Christians are led to believe and pressured to acknowledge that the generous, loving, believing, giving, self-sacrificing child of God will donate organs. And we all know what the opposite of that is!

Probably most church people assume that these statements apply to dead (nearly dead) donors, not to live ones. Yet soft-hearted people will be drawn to donate a kidney and their act will be influenced by church approval.

Kidney donation news story (ref)

Another story (ref) (Just Google for more)

But not all kidneys come from the willing and compassionate. Stay tuned for part two of Other People's Organs.

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Churches speak out on organ donation

Are your kidneys available to me? - Second in a series

News about advance directivesResearchers tell us that a little over a third of Americans have an Advance Directive. Among those with a chronic illness, only about 38% do.

This may indicate that people don’t like to think about end-of-life matters, or that we really are not sure what to state about some issues, or both.

Perhaps if we had firm convictions about organ donation, we would state them. Can the Church help us out?

On the Christian Biowiki, we find a listing of Christian denominations in alpha order with their position statements on bioethical issues. At the top of the list is the Alliance of Baptists. They call for:

A faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STI prevention and treatment.

Bible-believing Christians would consider this statement to be wrongheaded. And it has no comment on organ donation. Often Christian denominations have extensive statements on social justice but it seems the bio-medical dilemmas have caught us by surprise.

Another denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, succinctly states:

[The Church] believes in the sanctity of human life and strives to protect against abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and the withholding of reasonable medical care to handicapped or elderly … and … encourages its members who do not object personally to support donor/recipient anatomical organs through living wills and trusts… we appeal for a morally and ethically fair distribution of organs to those qualified to receive them. (2001)

This statement does not speak to the live donor of a kidney. It only addresses the supposed dead donor. A member of that denomination would still need to find out if it is OK with God for a living person to donate a kidney.

Mennonites state:

We commit ourselves to completing advance directives (e.g., living wills and proxies) as an affirmation of our beliefs about life and death and as a symbol of our commitment to stewardship and justice.

This is interesting, considering that an advance directive likely will require the signee to make known if he or she wishes to be an organ donor. So, again, where is the guidance? Perhaps it is understood among the members, but I’m guessing it is unclear to them.

The Southern Baptist Convention has a fairly comprehensive affirmation about organ donation, and their website includes a Resolution on Human Organ Donations, formulated in 1988.

WHEREAS, Organ procurement for transplantation falls far short of demand; and
WHEREAS, Organ transplant technology has transformed many lives from certain death to vibrant productivity; and
WHEREAS, A Gallup poll reported in the New York Times May 3, 1987, that 82% of respondents would donate adult relatives' organs in appropriate situations, but only 20% had completed a donor card; and
WHEREAS, Complete resurrection of the body does not depend on bodily wholeness at death; and
WHEREAS, The values of a godless society promote self-sufficiency to such a degree that people are indifferent to the needs of others, as seen in resistance to organ donations; and
WHEREAS, Organ donation for research or transplantation is a matter of personal conscience.
Therefore be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 14-16, 1988, encourage physicians to request organ donation in appropriate circumstances…

This type of statement troubles me. Here, a conservative Christian denomination approves of organ donation even while recognizing it may be objectionable to an individual’s conscience.

Which is it? OK or not? OK for you if you think it is? That is not helpful. You have told the person who can’t figure it out, that it is fine as long as it feels right. What if we used that same approach with the abortion issue? Imagine the outcry!

The problem is, these new biomedical practices are not familiar to us. They have been legalized and government funded so we accept them as safe and advisable. There are movements and organizations urging us to adopt them as our way of life. Our churches debate and promote them, generally. Yet, there is a gray area.

As noted already, the focus of this blog series is only on kidney donation, not organ transplantation whether from living or dead donors. These are separate categories though they have much in common. Probably, church position statements need to address both scenarios.

I personally know of a pastor who ended his service recently by announcing he was on a waiting list for a kidney. This was in a Bible-believing, protestant denomination. He is in his 60s. Will anyone in his congregation step forward to be that donor? Would you?

If you want to do further research on the positions that religions and religious denominations hold on organ donation, here are some links. I have not found a Christian denomination that opposes organ donation.

If you, as a Christian, oppose organ donation, you are swimming upstream. But really, are you salt and light if you are an organ donor, and in particular, a kidney donor? If you refuse to be one, are you unloving and unreasonable? After all, you only need one kidney.

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Angel fish
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1


A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.