Organ donation, what religions say

Organ donation, what religions say

The rate of opposition to post-mortem organ harvesting increased further in 2023 to reach more than 33%, the Biomedicine Agency reported on Tuesday February 13. Already on January 18, the general director of the agency, Marine Jeantet, had mentioned the “religious factor” as one of the possible reasons to explain opposition to organ harvesting.

To overcome families’ reluctance, the Biomedicine Agency is working to meet religious representatives and is increasing training for hospital chaplains. Each religion, while defending the inviolable nature of the human body, grants exceptions if it is a question of saving lives. Christianity, Islam and Judaism, however, insist on the consent of the donor.

► What the Catholic Church says

Since 1956, the Catholic Church has come out in favor of corneal removal and transplantation for the benefit of blind people or people threatened with blindness. Pope Pius XII sets three principles: fundamental respect for the body which cannot be related to an object that can be used without discernment; the legitimacy of transplantation since it involves relieving suffering, or even healing; and the importance of consent.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, organ transplantation is “compliant with moral law if the dangers and physical and psychological risks run by the donor are proportionate to the good sought in the recipient.” Post-mortem organ donation is considered a “noble and meritorious act” and “must be encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity”. However, it is not “ morally acceptable” without free and explicit consent.

In a speech given to the Italian Association of Organ Donors in 2019, Pope Francis recalled that it must be a “free and unpaid act” because “any form of commodification of the body” would be contrary to human dignity.

Christians are called to live this gift “as an offering to the Lord, who identified himself with those who suffer because of illness” or accidents of life, said François. For those who do not have religious faith, this gesture can be experienced “on the basis of disinterested human solidarity”.

► What Protestants say

Most Protestant movements have positioned themselves in favor of organ donation. The theologian and pastor Jean-François Collange was responsible for writing a text in 1994 detailing the position of the Protestant Church on the gift. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” There is no better way to transform the absurd and tragic of a sudden disappearance than to allow others to still be able to continue living.”he writes.

Protestantism insists, just like Catholicism, on respect for the donor’s body and on the importance of explicit consent.

► What Judaism says

In Judaism, the issue is handled on a case-by-case basis, according to rabbis. As specified by Rabbi Michel Gugenheim in the columns of the weekly Jewish news, “preserving human life rejects all the prohibitions of the Torah”. Donation, however, requires the consent of the donor.

In an article titled “Jewish Perspectives on Organ Donation”LiveOnNY, a New York NGO promoting organ donation and transplants, recalls that the main branches of Judaism – liberal, Orthodox or conservative – agree on the fact that, in halachathe Jewish law, the greatest “mitzvah” (commandment) is “pikuach nefesh” (save a life).

This principle trumps almost all others, including “kevod meit” (honor the deceased) or “tahrah” (mortuary rituals). Indeed, while Jewish law requires the intact burial of the body, organ and tissue donation is considered a source of life and health for others. In doing so, the act of donation honors the deceased.

► What Islam says

Like other religions, Islam considers human life to be sacred and the human body to be inviolable. However, every Muslim also has the obligation to preserve life, even if it means breaking certain prohibitions. Surah “Al-Maïda” (“The Table Served”) of the Quran, verse 32, states that “Whoever saves one life has saved all of humanity.”

Also, the possibility of breaking religious prohibitions to save a life has led the ulemas (Muslim jurisconsults) to consider the transplant as licit, provided that the donor has given his consent freely.

In 1979, a fatwa authorized the practice in Kuwait. It is followed by the consensual decision of the council of the Academy of Legal Sciences (fiqh) Islamic meeting in Jeddah in August 1988. Since then, several ulama have issued fatwas authorizing the harvesting of organs, emphasizing the notion of voluntary donation and the prohibition of trading in them.

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