Clergy Show Support of Organ Donors

Schenectady, N.Y., Nov. 15--(AP) Ernie Varga, chaplain at Ellis Hospital, has been called to many bedsides of brain-dead patients as a family anguished over donating the organs of their loved one. "I've had people refuse and say no. They couldn't deal with the issue of organ donation," said Varga, a Lutheran pastor. "Others really are glad to help somebody else and make their loved one's organs available."

Friday marks the beginning of the seventh annual "National Donor Sabbath," a weekend when health officials seek to spread the word that mainstream religions approve of organ donation as an act of charity. Several Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy members have offered their support to the program, which was launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But religious leaders also don't fault those who refuse to donate relatives' organs. "This is really a personal choice," Varga said.


Last year, the 24,119 organ transplants in the U.S. involved 17,598 organs from 6,081 cadavers, and 6,521 organs from living donors, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

A study of earlier data showed organs were taken from about 42 percent of brain-dead potential donors, which can provide kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, intestines and pancreas, plus various tissues. Consent was given in 54 percent of cases, but some were unsuitable.

About 80,000 people are on the national waiting list for donated organs, and 6,124 died last year waiting for organs, according to UNOS, a nonprofit group that maintains the list under contract to the Department of Health and Human Services.

When a patient is declared brain dead, Varga said, relatives approached about organ donations sometimes have faith-based questions. "Sometimes they just don't understand. Is this acceptable? Is this God-pleasing for them to do?" Varga said. "The way I respond is it's giving life to someone who may not have it, and helping them in their grief that this is a way for their loved one to continue on in the lives of others." But it should be discussed before that, Varga said, to know the wishes of the patient.

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The Associated Press
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