Thursday, September 11, 2008

Religious Views on Organ Donation

The September, 2008 issue of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice posted an article by Gabrielle Loeb entitled Judaism’s perspectives on Organ Donation After Death. Its publication was highlighted by Professor Gerry Beyer on the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog on September 10, 2008.

Loeb's article is quite detailed. He introduces the subject as follows:

Although many Jews believe that Jewish law forbids organ donation, most rabbinical authorities not only permit it, but also encourage it.

In 1990, the Rabbinical Assembly of America approved a resolution to “encourage all Jews to become enrolled as organ and tissue donors by signing and carrying cards or driver’s licenses attesting to their commitment of such organs and tissues upon their deaths to those in need.” * * *
After investigating issues regarding already deceased donors, including Kavod Ha-met (honor of the dead) Nivul Ha-met (disgrace of the dead), and the definition of death, and raising newer concerns due to medical advancements that can prolong life, he concludes with this advice to Jews:
There are numerous reasons for Jews to become organ donors; most reasons against that choice are simply misconceptions. Jews should consult their own rabbi to discuss the issue of organ donation.

Most rabbis agree, however, that it is our responsibility as Jews to honor God’s name and to save lives by giving the gift of life even after are lives have terminated through the act of organ donation.

Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:6 says, “Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world.”
For a thoughtful, researched Christian view of issues involving organ donation, see: A Christian's Response to Organ Donation and Transplantation, by Brad Harrub, Ph.D., posted by Apologetics Press, which asks "Can faithful Christians take advantage of, and support, organ donation and/or transplants?"
[G]iven the successful heart, pancreas, pancreas islet cell, intestine, lung, liver, and heart-lung transplants[,] the question arises, “Is this new medical technology in compliance with God’s will?” What should Christians know about organ transplants, and can we support this ever-growing practice? * * *
Wikipedia, under its heading Organ Donation and its subheading Religious Scruples, summarizes various religious views on organ donation:
Most religions are in favor of organ donation as acts of charity and as a means of saving a life. Some impose certain restrictions. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses require that organs be drained of any blood, and Muslims require that the donor have provided written consent in advance.

A few, such as certain branches of Orthodox Judaism consider it obligatory.

However, a few groups disfavor organ transplantation or donation; notably, these include Shinto and those who follow the folk customs of the Gypsies. * * *
This summary appears drawn from a short-form analysis of religious beliefs towards organ donation, with a lineage dating back to 1979, now widely posted on the Internet.

That analysis attempted to answer a basic question, answered differently for individual donors with differing religious viewpoints, who consider organ donation:

A common question that arises when people are considering organ and tissue donation is, "Does my religion approve of organ donation and transplantation?"

Surveys find that few individuals are aware of their own religion's doctrines regarding organ and tissue donation.

In fact, most major religions encourage organ and tissue donation, and many of them at the very least allow their followers to make a personal decision in this regard.
Such materials were posted in chart form by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources & Service Administration on its webpage, Religious Views on Donation.

The government website's version of the materials was adapted from
Organ and Tissue Donation: A Reference Guide for Clergy, 1995." For a more comprehensive guide incorporating those principles, see: Organ and Tissue Donation Reference Guide (2004; PDF, 46 pages), prepared & posted by the Wisconsin Donor Network.

Versions of that material summarizing religious viewpoints on organ donation were posted by many reputable organizations, including:
In Pennsylvania, the Donate Life program, co-sponsored by the PA Department of Health, offers resources to explain and encourage organ donation. The Health Department also posts Organ and Tissue Donation Links for education and support. See also: PA EE&F Law Blog posting Organ Donation in Pennsylvania (06/14/07).

The PA Department of Transportation now provides an online organ donation registration for Pennsylvania residents who desire to make such a designation. The effect of, and process for, such a designation is explained by Penn DOT on its webpage entitled Organ Donation.

According to an article entitled Producing Organ Donors, by David H. Howard, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (Vol. 21, No. 3, Summer 2007, pages 25–36; PDF), the problem now is not the technology, but is the availability of transplantable organs:
"Organ transplantation is one of the greatest technological achievements of modern medicine, but the ability of patients to benefit from transplantation is limited by shortages of transplantable organs. * * *

As a result of the growth in the demand for organs, many observers have questioned whether the current system is capable of providing enough transplantable organs.

Transplant physicians and policymakers are seriously debating proposals to pay donors and their families and to change the legal regime governing the process of obtaining consent to donation. * * *
According to from January to June of this year, 13,812 organ transplants occurred, due to the selflessness of 6,987 donors and their families.

Yet, as of September 8, 2008, the waiting list of organ transfer candidates remains at 99,435 hopeful recipients.