Organ Donation: Where Your Religion Stands

Nothing's worse than when a chance to donate an organ is missed because of the false belief that donation is prohibited.

An estimated 5,000 Americans die annually because they need organ transplants and physicians can’t find donors. Sometimes this can’t be helped, as in some deaths from heart disease; transplantable hearts are only available when a healthy person dies suddenly, usually in an automobile crash, and nobody wants the supply of hearts obtained that way to increase. But often the death of a person awaiting transplant could have been avoided if only donor cards had been signed or similar steps taken, or if there were enough volunteers for the kinds of operations that a person can participate in then walk away, such as donating a kidney.

And nothing is worse than when a chance to donate an organ is missed because of the false belief that donation is prohibited by religion.

Despite popular misconceptions, there are almost no religious rules against donating organs or receiving transplants. A few denominations ban these practices, and a few others have rules that are not models of clarity. But for most of mainstream Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, organ donations and transplants are allowed and or even encouraged.

All mainstream American Protestant denominations approve of organ donations. In a typical example, the Lutheran Church (ELCA) endorsed the practice in 1984, calling such acts “expressions of sacrificial love for a neighbor in need.” The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted in 1995 to encourage all members to carry Universal Donor Cards; the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, which has a long history of supporting advances in health care, not only encourages organ donation but maintains a pediatric heart transplantation floor in its hospital in Loma Linda, California. Most Pentecostal and evangelical churches support donations, although since these faiths are decentralized, there are a few local exceptions. Today even the Amish, for all their suspicion of modernity, allow donation if it aids the recipient.


The Vatican strongly supports donation; in 2000, Pope John Paul II addressed an international conference of transplant surgeons and praised their work, though asking them to shun any transplants using stem cells--a form of cell that, with current technology, must be obtained from discarded or aborted embryos. Eastern Orthodox Christianity takes approximately the same position.

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