All major religions in the world view organ donation as act of charity or make it clear that it is a decision to be left up to the individual or family. The gift of organ donation enjoys broad support among many religions in the U.S. The decision to become a donor is a personal one and you should consult with your faith leader if you have questions. When someone passes away, it calls attention to an individual’s faith and beliefs and religion suddenly becomes very important. When families are considering donating a loved one’s organs after they pass away the most common question that arises is, “What is my religion’s stance on organ and tissue donation?” We have included the most common religions take on organ, eye and tissue donation.
Organ, eye and tissue donation is encouraged as a charitable act that saves or enhances life; therefore, it requires no action on the part of the religious group. We encourage all Faith Leaders to know about their religion’s position on organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation.
Families who are faced the possibility of their loved one being a donor, often turn to their faith leader for their religion’s view on donation. When individuals are not able to make an informed decision, it could leave the family members with a feeling of guilt regardless of the decision they may make. By knowing the facts, you can help eliminate the thousands of lives lost each year in the U.S. due to the lack of organs available for transplant. Sadly, healthy organs are being buried every day.
Don’t take your organs to heaven…heaven knows we need them here!
- Sermon Ideas
- Suggested Hymns and Bulletin Inserts
- Biblical Principles Supporting Donation
- Awareness Messages, Inspirational Writings and Bequests
United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS): Go to the UNOS website for more theological perspectives on organ and tissue donation and a complete list of UNOS references
Organdonor.gov: Health Resources & Services Administration – U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation
In 1988, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved that because “resurrection does not depend on body wholeness” and that “organ transplant technology has transformed many lives from certain death to vibrant productivity,” the SBC encourages “voluntarism regarding organ donations in the spirit of stewardship, compassion for the needs of others, and alleviating suffering.” (Resolution on Human Organ Donations, June, 1988)
"Organ donation: A biblical perspective"
An act of redemption
This world has not turned out as God intended. God, the creator, suffers at the condition of His handiwork. The world as we see it today hardly resembles the perfect creation that God spoke into existence. Crime, hunger, death, and disease were not present at creation, but due to man's fall in the garden, adversity has found a home in every human soul.
God the creator invites all those who would be His to suffer with Him. We are compelled to bear our burdens with the purifying hope that suffering will not have the last word. Even the most timid Christian must stand on the promise that ultimate and unconditional triumph awaits those that love the Lord. Our faith must fasten on the fact that no matter how severe the suffering, God will redeem the situation and utilize it for our good.
Since suffering is inevitable for both God and man, God has created a redeeming value for suffering. The goodness of God will allow something positive to come out of a negative situation. God's greatest demonstration of this redemptive process is realized in His son. The death of Jesus Christ resulted in the redemption of the world. His finished work at Calvary restored the broken fellowship between God and His most precious creation, man. God had rescued creation and mankind from hopelessness with His redeeming love. Christ suffered the loss of His life, but it became the seed of the world's hope and joy.
Sooner or later suffering and sorrow comes to every home. No conditions of wealth, culture, or even religion can prevent it. But the losses and griefs of life have been intended to leave behind an abundance of character and blessings that will make eternity richer. In a Christian home, sorrow should always leave a benediction. It should be received as God's messenger, and when it is, it will always leave a blessing.
Some treasures must be mined. They have to be discovered, realized. Blessings are often shrouded behind the veil of overwhelming grief. There are some tough places in this world, but nothing compares to the intensive care waiting room, where high levels of emotion and active grief can barricade any offer of redemption. Unfortunately, the only time donation advocates can approach a family about organ, eye and tissue donation is in the midst of their grief and sorrow. Many people can only see grief as an enemy to whom they will refuse to be reconciled. They feel that they can never be comforted. For many families who consent to organ, eye and tissue donation, it is a way of redeeming the loss of a loved one. In a situation where you feel victimized, the decision to donate gives the family a feeling of being in control. It gives life to others. Organ donation has helped families deal with their grief by bringing something positive out of a seemingly negative situation.
Not everyone dies in a way that allows vital organ donation. In fact, only a small percentage of people who die can be organ donors. If the decision ever becomes ours to consent for organ, eye and tissue donation, we should consider why God has allowed such an opportunity.
The sweetest songs that have ever been sung have come out of fire. Sorrows should not be wasted. We should yield our rebellion, accept our suffering, and discover if it has some mission to perform, some gift to give, some golden fruit to enjoy, some redeeming value.
A sweet fragrance in the house
In Mark, Chapter 14, we have the marvelous account of a woman breaking an expensive alabaster vase filled with spikenard, a priceless perfumed oil, and anointing Jesus with all of it. Her extravagance was criticized by Judas Iscariot and others in the house. But our Lord praised the sacrificial giving of this woman and declared her deed a memorial. Suppose she had left the expensive oil in the unbroken vase? Would there have been any mention of it? Would her deed of careful keeping and self-preservation been told all over the world? She broke the vase, poured its contents forth, lost it, sacrificed it, and now perfumed incense has drifted into every home where this message has been heard. We may keep our life if we will, carefully preserving it from waste, but we shall have no reward. However, if we empty it out in loving service, we shall make it a lasting blessing to the world, and it shall be well spoken of forever.
By donating our organs, eyes and tissues we unselfishly pour out the fragrant gift of life upon those awaiting a second chance at life through transplantation. The sweet fragrance of sacrificial giving will flow into the homes of transplant recipients whose lives were saved and/or improved through the gift of life.
The donation of organs should not only be regarded as a medical or a secular good deed but also as a religious, sacramental extension of Christ's own life-giving sacrifice. Organ sharing is consistent with the beliefs of all major religions and is viewed as an act of charity, fraternal love, and self-sacrifice.
The cross of Christ is not only substitutionary, but it is also representative. His life of humility and unselfishness should become a prototype for those who bear His name as Christians. We should follow His example by giving the gift of life so that others may live life more abundantly.
The liberating truth
Unfamiliarity with the truth concerning the donor process will hinder the decision to choose life in the face of death. Misconceptions, myths, and mistrust of the medical community will eclipse our perspectives and leave us fearful and ignorant of the facts. God tells us that His people perish because of the lack of knowledge. People are indeed perishing, particularly African Americans. African Americans are less likely to consent to organ, eye and tissue donation than whites, but much more likely to develop kidney failure. Another truth is that African Americans have an unidentified biological susceptibility to hypertension and diabetes, the major causes of kidney failure. If more African Americans would donate, it would provide better matches and increased chances of survival for other African Americans.
The misconception, "I need all my organs intact in order to get into heaven," is not scriptural. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:50 that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." In eternity we will not have or need our earthly bodies. Old things will pass away and all things will be made new.
There is also some mistrust in the medical community. The myths that one could be declared dead prematurely just to gain organs or that you won't receive top medical care if you a have signed donor card are flights from reality. The fact is that no one becomes a donor until all lifesaving measures have been exhausted. An open casket funeral is possible with any type of donation. There is no cost to the family for organ, eye and tissue donation. If we would seek the truth about organ donation, the truth will liberate us not only to accept but to give the gift of life. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)
Through Christ's spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jew or Gentile. In sharing one body, we cannot isolate ourselves from the hurts of humanity. We are called upon to "bear ye one another's burdens." While we can't save the world, we can sign up to become organ, eye and tissue donors when we renew driver's license or get a state issued identification card from the Office of Motor Vehicles. To become a vital organ donor is to give life to as many as nine recipients. An eye donor can restore sight to two individuals and a tissue donor can help as many as 50 people.
Should you decide to give the gift of life, discuss it with your family; let them know your wishes. Death, especially our own, is not something that we love to talk about, but in the last 2000 years no one has been able to escape it.
Death need not be the final comment of our lives. Instead of one stone marker at the head of our grave, there could be living memorials, real people with real families whose lives have been put back together through the gift of life. This is Christianity at its best: sharing one's own life for the purpose of helping someone else.
God, the creator of this world, has placed us as stewards of His creation. Being stewards, we cannot ignore the imperative to heal found in Matthew 10:8, "Heal the sick ... freely ye have received, freely give."
Give the gift of life; it's the chance of a lifetime.
By the Rev. Irvin Lance Peebles
Catholics view organ and tissue donation as an act of charity and love. Transplants are morally and ethically acceptable to the Vatican. Pope John Paul II has stated, “The Catholic Church would promote the fact that there is a need for organ donors, and Christians should accept this as a challenge to their generosity and fraternal love, so long as ethical principles are followed.
Organ, eye, and tissue donation is considered an act of charity and love, and transplants are morally and ethically acceptable to the Vatican. (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 86)
"Eulogy of an owl"
- Resurrection passages: Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:9-20; Luke 23:35-48;
- Healing miracles of Jesus: John 5:19, 9:1-12; Luke 5:12-26, 6:6-11
Depending on the occasion for this sermon, your introduction and your lead into the opening story may vary. For example, for a funeral: "My eulogy today for (the deceased) will begin with a story, titled 'Eulogy of an Owl.'"
If used at Easter, one might start by saying “I wonder if anyone thought about what would have been appropriate to engrave on a tombstone for Jesus. I wonder if anyone has thought about a eulogy for Him. Maybe the best eulogy we can find for Jesus is the entire New Testament, which reveals His wisdom, His generosity and sensitivity, His strengths, and His accomplishments. This Easter morning I would like to begin by reading an interesting eulogy that relates to today's celebration. It is titled "Eulogy of an Owl" and is taken from [the book] Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story”.
His name was Walter Elias, a city boy by birth, the son of a building contractor.
Before Walter was five, his parents moved from Chicago to a farm near Marceline, Missouri. And it was there on the farm that Walter would have his first encounter with death.
Walter was only seven that particular lazy summer afternoon, not much different from other afternoons. Dad was tending to farm chores; Mother was in the house.
It was the perfect day for a young fellow to go exploring.
Now just beyond a grove of graceful willows lay an apple orchard. There Walter could make believe to his heart's content that he was lost, which he never was, or that he had captured a wild animal, which he never had. But today was different. Directly in front of him, about thirty feet away, perched in the low-drooping branch of an apple tree and apparently sound asleep--was an owl.
The boy froze. He remembered his father telling him that owls rested during the day so they could hunt by night. What a wonderful pet that funny little bird would make. If only Walter could approach it without awakening it and snatch it from the tree.
With each step, the lad winced to hear dry leaves and twigs crackle beneath his feet. The owl did not stir. Closer...closer...and at last young Walter was standing under the limb just within range of his quarry. Slowly he reached up with one hand and grabbed the bird by its legs. He had captured it! But the owl, waking suddenly, came alive like no other animal Walter had ever seen. In a flurry of beating wings, wild eyes and frightened cries, it struggled against the boy's grasp. Walter, stunned, held on.
Now it's difficult to imagine how what happened next, happened. Perhaps the response was sparked by gouging talons or by fear itself. But at some point the terrified boy, still clinging to the terrified bird, flung it to the ground and stomped it to death.
When it was over, a disbelieving Walter gazed down at the broken heap of bronze feathers and blood. And he cried. Walter ran from the orchard but later returned to bury the owl, the little pet he would never know. Each shovelful of earth from the shallow grave was moistened with tears of deep regret. And for months thereafter, the owl visited Walter's dreams.
Ashamed, he would tell no one of the incident until many years later. By then, the world forgave him. For that sad and lonely summer's day in the early spring of Walter Elias' life brought with it an awakening of the meaning of life. Walter never, ever again, killed a living creature. Although all the boyhood promises could not bring that one little owl back to life, through its death a whole world of animals came into being.
For it was then that a grieving seven-year-old boy, attempting to atone for a thoughtless misdeed, first sought to possess the animals of the forest while allowing them to run free—by drawing them.
Now the boy, too, is gone, but his drawings live on in the incomparable, undying art of Walter Elias ... Disney. Walt Disney.
And now you know the rest of the story.
I'm sure that all of you recognize the name Paul Harvey, a radio commentator from Chicago who uncovers a lot of fascinating background information on famous people and uses captivating words and phrases to tell us "the rest of the story." I'm sure you all recognize the name Walt Disney. You probably all have a favorite movie of Walt Disney's and probably a favorite Walt Disney character. Mine happens to be Peter Pan. I dream a lot about flying. Flying with my arms outstretched, not in front of me, like Superman, but to the sides, like Peter Pan. I think I fantasize about being eternally youthful and always taking care of those who are in need. I have to be careful though, especially lately, because of that new book The Peter Pan Syndrome. But I do enjoy Walt Disney and his work. As Paul Harvey wrote, "All the boyhood promises could not bring that one little owl back to life, through its death a whole world of animals came into being." From a tragic event in the early days of Walt Disney came life, and Walt Disney left a legacy of fantasy, laughter and joy."
Closing Comment for a funeral
We are reminded of that, somewhat, today as we bury ________. I presume that ________, as all of us, watched Walt Disney's movies and had a favorite star. (His family mentioned that he enjoyed the character ______ from the movie ___________.) The legacy of Walt Disney will live on for a long time. Likewise the legacy of ________ will live on in a number of different ways. The happy memory of things that he and his family did together. We can see the family that he raised, the home he provided, and the farm business that he nourished and cultivated. We will recall the many times he worked with us in our parish and the times we saw him as an active part of our city.
Those memories will bring us some joy and maybe some laughter as the pain of our loss begins to fade. And we can find further comfort in the fact that ________’s life, in a sense, did not end, but rather his life changed. We believe he has joined his Creator and Father and his Savior because he has been faithful to the request of Jesus to love Jesus and to love his fellow man and woman. Jesus promised us that salvation would come on Easter as a result of the sadness and tragedy of Good Friday. New Life did come to us out of the death of the crucifixion. And if we continue to follow the covenant we have with God, we, too, can experience the joy of redemption.
Another very beautiful way in which the legacy of ________ will continue is through a decision that his family made when he died. I am pleased that they have permitted and encouraged me to mention to you, his friends and acquaintances, that ________ was an organ and tissue donor. As you know, the hospital does support the transplantation program, and through the family's generosity, ________’s cornea, kidneys, heart and bone tissue were used to save the lives of several other people. Through the tragedy of ________’s accident and death, more than six other human beings will have a longer life, and for some, a richer and fuller life. The recipients may never know who the donor was, but they can again experience laughter, joy, hope, and happiness through his miracle of transplantation. I compliment ________’s family for their choice and reaffirm that we are proud to have known him and will all miss him for what he did for us when he was alive, as well as what he has done for others after his death.
Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the soul of all the faithfully departed rest in peace. Amen.
Closing comments for Easter
We are reminded of that this weekend. The death of Good Friday's crucifixion resulted in the life of … Sunday's resurrection. From sin comes salvation, from the negative comes the positive, from the destructive comes the creative. To Christians throughout the world, Easter Sunday means life. Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead so that all people could be given a new life. Easter belongs to the season of new life, to the season of spring. Organ and tissue donation also means new life for thousands of men, women and children who are awaiting organ transplants. Therefore, it is fitting that this year, National Organ and Tissue Donor Week begins today, Easter Sunday.
Organ and tissue donation is an opportunity to make a positive, valuable contribution out of a tragic death. It is considerable comfort for families to realize that their loved one has given others a new life. Our local community, as you know, has a growing interest and involvement in donation programs. You might even know of someone near you who can see again because of new corneas or work again because of a bone transplant or function normally because of a new kidney. I encourage you today to think about your decision regarding organ and tissue donation. I would encourage you to discuss it with your families and sign your driver's license. In fact, 10 minutes after our service began this morning all of the church doors were automatically locked. You can't leave until you sign your driver's license, and I will witness it. Now, if any of you succeed in breaking free, the consequences will be severe. I mean, God spoke to me last night about this very item (pause). She said (pause for a laugh—I hope), "If they don't sign up during services, their beautifully decorated Easter eggs will turn out soft boiled, and their chocolate bunnies will have melted by the time they arrive at home."
There has been a great deal of publicity about the great needs of people all over the United States. I appeal to you to make a positive life-giving decision to donate the organs and tissues of you and your family so that others might live or live more fully. I encourage you today to consider your involvement in organ and tissue donation programs, so that like our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, [and] like Walt Disney, we might be able to bring life out of death.
Sermon by Father Michael J. Lynch, DMin
There is definite evidence for Christian support of organ donation.
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)
The Christian Church encourages organ and tissue donation, stating that we were created for God’s glory and for sharing God’s love. A 1985 resolution, adopted by the General Assembly, encourages “members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to enroll as organ donors and prayerfully support those who have received an organ transplant.” (Resolution #8548 Concerning Organ Transplants, Des Moines, 1985)
The 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church recommends and urges all members of this Church to consider seriously the opportunity to donate organs after death that others may live, and that such decision be clearly stated to family, friends, church and attorney. (Resolution #1991-A097 Urge Members to Consider Donating Organs, 1991)
The Fourth Conference of the Islamic Fiqh Council determined that transplantation offers clear positive results if practiced… to achieve the aims of sharee’ah which tries to achieve all that is good and in the best interests of individuals and societies and promotes cooperation, compassion and selflessness. Provided that shar’i guidelines and controls that protect human dignity are met, it is permissible to transplant an organ from a dead person to a living person whose life or basic essential functions depend on that organ, subject to the condition that permission be given by the deceased before his death, or by his heirs after his death. Regarding living donation, it is permissible to transplant organs such as a kidney and or a lung in order to keep the beneficiary alive or to keep some essential or basic function of his body working. (Resolutions of Islamic Fiqh Council of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Fourth Conference, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 18-23 Safar 1408 AH/6-11 February 1988 CE)
In principle, Judaism sanctions and encourages organ, eye, and tissue donation in order to save lives. According to Rabbi Elliott N. Dorff, Professor, American Jewish University, Chair of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, saving a life through organ donation supersedes the rules concerning treatment of a dead body. Transplantation does not desecrate a body or show lack of respect for the dead, and any delay in burial to facilitate organ donation is respectful of the decedent. Organ donation saves lives and honors the deceased.
The Conservative Movement Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards has stated that organ donations after death represent not only an act of kindness, but are also a commanded obligation which saves human lives. (On Educating Conservative Jews Regarding Organ Donations, May 1996)
“Don’t hang up the phone, it’s your covenant calling”
It was a little over a month ago. I remember the phone call quite well. I was settling into a comfortable position at my desk, reflecting on the holidays, thinking about what message I would offer this Rosh Hashanah. What fault would I force others to confront? What issue would I use to make the congregation squirm in their seats? And then the phone rang… On the other line was a member of our congregation who works with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as director of the Division of Organ Transplantation. Why was she calling me?
The voice on the other end said to me, “I want to talk to you about a professional issue.” Immediately I thought to myself, “Uh oh, what did I do now?” “No, no,” she assured me. I wasn’t in trouble. She was calling because she wanted me to give a sermon on organ donation. Had I thought at all about organ donation? And I must confess to you that only one thought went through my mind at that moment—hang up the phone. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be talking about this subject at this time.
This member told me about the thousands of people across America that are waiting for transplants. About the many, many who will die because there are an insufficient number of donors to meet the need. She shared with me that Jews were among the two groups with the lowest number of organ donors, even though the strictest movements in Judaism permit donations in some cases.
She explained how there are many people who die tragically who would have wished to donate their organs to save a life but couldn’t because they never shared that information with their families while alive. Well, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed now and more than a bit depressed, and then to prove her point she asked me if I knew what my wife’s wishes would be if she were ever in an accident. And I quickly replied that it wasn’t the type of question one liked to ask his wife over dinner at the end of a long day. And then I was overcome with an even stronger desire to hang up the phone, to leave the problem alone, to make the question go away.
Explain to me how I can sit in bed and read about thousands of people dying in Rwanda and be disturbed but not really have any trouble sleeping through the night, but I can’t discuss the topic of organ transplantation in the middle of the day without wanting to jump out of my skin. Somehow this is different, isn’t it? This is my life, my death, and who really wants to make decisions about that anyway? If we talk about it, then we make it real.
On Rosh Hashanah morning we read a strong and disturbing piece of liturgy, the prayer Unatenah Tokef, “Let us proclaim the sacred power of this day for it is awesome and full of dread…. You, O God, are judge and arbiter…. [O]n Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed … who shall live and who shall die; who shall see ripe age and who shall not; who will die by fire and who by water; who by hunger and who by thirst, who by earthquake and who by plague.”
What is this prayer that tells us that God seals our fate this day? What do we make of this list of ways to die? And yet we know that we are lucky to be here. We all know people who have died in the past year. We are aware of the random nature of our lives. And the prayer Unatenah Tokef says yes, our lives are random. We don’t know who will live and who will die, so it is time to get serious. We have been given another chance. We stand here today alive, lucky to be alive, so what are we going to do about it? Hope that we get lucky another year or face up to the sacred responsibility that awaits us. This prayer reminds us that today is a day of decision, today is a day when we face the unpleasant, but real, decisions that we avoid the rest of the year.
Now you’re thinking, “Rabbi, it’s Rosh Hashanah. Some of us are here with our children. What are you talking about? Organ transplants? Death? You’re scaring my kids. Just tell us a nice story about the round challah and let us go eat a happy holiday meal.
There is a legend about King David, that when he was a young man he learned that he would die on a Shabbat. And what do you think his favorite ceremony was? Havdallah, the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat. The legend tells us that David couldn’t get to Havdallah quickly enough.
Isn’t that a lot like us? We say to ourselves, “We made it to another year, we’re alive and hopefully healthy, Mazel Tov, L’chayim, let’s give thanks and go eat some brisket.” But Rosh Hashanah is not thanksgiving, and we do not live only for ourselves. We live in covenant with the people around us—our spouses, our children or grandchildren, our parents and grandparents, or our brothers and sisters. We all have people we made covenants with, people who depend on us as we depend on them. Yes, Mazel Tov, congratulations to all of us; we’ve made it to another year, but now it’s time to get serious. It’s time to face up to some major decisions; it’s time to honor our role in the covenants we have made with our many partners in life. These high holidays are called Yamim Noraim in Hebrew, Days of Awe. We need to use this time to successfully avoid the rest of the year.
And organ, eye and tissue donation is a great example. Too often when asked about this issue, we hide behind the answer that we don’t think Jewish law allows that. But rather than pursue and study if this is true, we hide behind a vague answer that we think is true. In reality, there are many different opinions on this issue. But for the majority of Jews in America, there is agreement that organ transplantation is permitted to some degree when the saving of a life is involved. Pikuach Nefesh—the saving of a human life—is one of the most urgent Mitzvot in Judaism, and based on the statistics, you can rest assured that anything taken from you will be used to save a life. While organ donation makes us uncomfortable and forces us to think about what we want done to our bodies when we die, the truth is that it may be the closest thing we have to immortality. A part of us living on in the body of another person who has been given a miraculous second chance. And who knows, maybe one of us or our loved ones or friends will one day find themselves on the other end, surviving only because someone else had that conversation with a loved one in advance and said to him or her, “These are my wishes if something ever happens to me.”
What about living wills? How many of us know someone who said in their lifetime, “If I were ever in a coma, I would want to die,” only to later end up on a respirator, placing a burden on their family they desperately wanted to avoid. All because they didn’t really discuss the issue properly with their family. It is amazing how you and I can worry about car pools and seat belts and other day-to-day safety details while we drive around with the future of our families in our hands. Because if, God forbid, something happens to us and our families don’t know what to do, we will burden them financially and emotionally in ways that could ruin them for the rest of their lives. We warn our children about drinking and driving, and we beg them to behave cautiously. Then we proceed to drive around every day with unresolved issues that are just as dangerous to the security of their futures.
There are so many issues to be discussed, so many important decisions to be made. How have we managed to avoid them for so long? We put away money to help out those we love when we are gone, we take out life insurance policies, but how many of us have bought a cemetery plot? How many of us have confronted that terrifying reality of our own mortality and saved our own family thousands of dollars in the future? A future in which we will not be around to help out.
I recently read about a 22-year-old woman who had made clear to her family her intention to be an organ donor. It seemed unusual for a 22-year-old to have such a deep awareness of her own mortality and the foresight to deal with it. Little did she realize just how soon her own life would end. She was killed in an accident, and her heart was given to a man who had been waiting 4 years for lifesaving surgery. He was running out of time, and her gift kept him alive. The man who received her heart was her father.
We have the power to help the world; we have the power to help our families, but we won’t help anyone if we don’t talk about the decisions, if we don’t make them real. When you put down the prayer book and leave this building, talk about these issues; make them real. On your way out, there are pamphlets on organ donation. Take one, read it, discuss it with your family or friends. It will offer clear answers to any of the questions you may have. There is another book printed by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations called A Time to Prepare. It is about living wills and funeral arrangements. It has forms and information to help you understand anything you may be unsure about writing a living will. It will make you uncomfortable now, but it will help your family later. Call us at the temple, tell us you want one, and we will order it for you.
It’s time to talk about these things. It’s time to make them real. Let’s face it. How many of us had moments in the last few years where we were worried about our own health? Where we had a real scare? And yet what have we done about it? If I had a car that broke down in the desert and I didn’t have AAA or any other protection, wouldn’t you expect me to purchase some as soon as possible afterwards? And yet, you and I keep living our lives on borrowed time, and we’re not purchasing the proper insurance, we’re not making another year. It is time to face our destiny while we are healthy. I know that this is painful, and I’m not trying to tell you what the right decisions are in each of the cases I have mentioned, but I know that we have to start asking the questions; we have to start making the decisions.
When I came home from that eventful phone call with Judy Braslow, I was very excited. I was fascinated by my reaction to our conversation and thought I had the makings of a great Rosh Hashanah sermon. I explained all this to my wife, Mimi. And when I was done, she looked at me cautiously and said, “So, are you going to make some big decision now?” I quickly answered, “No, no, I have to write this sermon first. I just wanted to let you know what I was going to speak about on Rosh Hashanah.”
I know that these are not the easiest things to talk about, and I do not know what my final decision will be, but I do know that the time is coming when I must ask the questions. It is a covenant I made when I agreed to marry Mimi, and I intend to honor it. On this Rosh Hashanah, may we all find the strength to fulfill the covenants that we have made with our loved ones, may we find the courage to make the hard decisions that cry out for a response. Amen.
By Rabbi Brian Zimmerman
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod encourages organ donation as an act of Christian love, but this choice is entirely up to the individual and/or his or her family, and should not be a cause of guilt or regret no matter what decision is made. The Bible has nothing specific to say regarding this issue. Therefore, it is a matter of Christian freedom and personal (or family) discretion.
In 1981, the Synod adopted the following resolution: To Encourage Donation of Kidneys and Other Organs Resolution 8-05:
Whereas, we accept and believe that our Lord Jesus came to give life and to give it abundantly (John 10:10); and
Whereas, through advances in medical science we are aware that at the time of death some of our organs can be transplanted to alleviate pain and suffering of afflicted human beings (see Galatians 6:10); and
Whereas, our heavenly Father has created us so that we can adequately and safely live with one kidney and can express our love and relive the unnecessary prolonged suffering of our relative; and
Whereas, we have an opportunity to help others out of love for Christ, through the donation of organs; therefore be it
Resolved, that our pastors, teachers, and Directors of Christian Education be encouraged to inform the members of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of the opportunity to sign a Universal Donor Card (which is to authorize the use of our needed organs at the time of death in order to relieve the suffering of individuals requiring organ transplants); and be it further
Resolved, that we encourage family members to become living kidney donors; and be it further
Resolved, that the program committees of pastors and teachers conferences be encouraged to include “organ and tissue transplants” as a topic on their agendas; and be it finally
Resolved, that the Board of Social Ministry and World Relief seek ways to implement this program so that the entire Synod may join in this opportunity to express Christian concern.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints recognizes that the donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that often results in great benefit to individuals with medical conditions. The decision to will or donate one’s own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs or tissue from a deceased family member, is made by the individual or the deceased members family. (Handbook 2: 21.3.7)
The Presbyterian denominations encourage and endorse donation. It is an individual right to make decisions regarding his or her own body. The resolution by one Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their ministry to others. (Minutes of the 195th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (Louisville: Office of the General Assembly, 1983), 97, 846)
Protestants encourage and endorse organ donation. The Protestant faiths respect an individual’s conscience and a person’s right to make decisions regarding his or her own body. Reverend James W. Rassbach, Lutheran Board of Communication Services, Missouri-Synod, says “We accept and believe that our Lord Jesus Christ came to give life and give it in abundance. Organ donations enable more abundant life, alleviate pain and suffering and are an expression of love in times of tragedy.
- The theme throughout the Bible is God giving of His life.
- The principle theme of the New Testament is Jesus giving of His life so we can live.
- Jesus gave His life.
- No greater love demonstrated than this.
- No greater reward than giving so others can live.
- Jesus gave His body that we may be whole.
- Jesus gave His blood so we need not struggle for our own cleansing.
III. It is understood that we love ourselves enough to know we are worthy to give of ourselves.
- The command is to love one another as ourselves.
- We would certainly want others to give of their material possessions, talents, and time to improve our life.
- We should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
- Many are uncomfortable about what others think if we were to give to those in need.
- But the Samaritan who had every cultural reason in the world not to help, did help.
- Could we not/should we not be available to give to those in need of lifesaving procedures and gifts such as organs, tissues, and blood?
- We do feel uncomfortable about giving, but reality points out we shouldn't be.
- Many people throughout history have cremated their bodies, as they saw no more need for the body.
- We need to remember, as the Moravians did, that death is the great equalizer.
- We may be rich or poor materially, but at death we are all equal because we don't take it with us.
- We should give that which will only be left behind to decay.
- We should always be reminded that we go to God with only a rich or poor soul.
In Acts 3:1-10, Peter comes across a man crippled since birth sitting at the gate called Beautiful. Peter wasn't bothered by the man's plea for alms. Instead, Peter associated with this man (supposedly unclean because of impairment). Peter didn't have gold or silver, but instead he gave the man something more precious—a new life through new legs. This nearly cost Peter his life (Acts 5), but Peter courageously gave the man the power to be whole so he could walk through the gate called Beautiful.
The gift of giving life is an eternal heritage left behind by the donor. Jesus, Peter, and many others are known for their life-giving gifts. Today places such as Lynchburg General Hospital, Lynchburg, Va., have planted a tree in remembrance of their organ donors.
We all have the opportunity to help our suffering neighbors live improved lives.. We may not even know our "neighbor's" name, but it is apparent that the giving of ourselves to help someone else certainly pleases Christ and God. It doesn't matter if we are rich or poor materially, we can all give our organs, tissues, and blood so that others can go through the gate called Beautiful.
Adapted from "Giving for Life: Organ and Tissue Donation" memorial service by Wayne Lanham, Director, Pastoral Care
Lynchburg General Hospital
In 1988, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved that because resurrection does not depend on body wholeness and that organ transplant technology has transformed many lives from certain death to vibrant productivity the SBC encourages voluntarism regarding organ donations in the spirit of stewardship, compassion for the needs of others, and alleviating suffering. (Resolution on Human Organ Donations, June, 1988)
The United Methodist Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation and thereby encourages all Christians to become organ and tissue donors, reports a church policy statement. In a 2000 resolution, the Church also encourages its congregations to join in the interfaith celebration of National Donor Sabbath, which is another way that United Methodists can help save lives. (Resolution #139, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2000)
“The best of things in the worst of times”
Scriptural text: Romans 8:28
I read about a young man from Florida University who played in the 1995 college baseball playoffs. In a crucial game, this player homered, drove in four runs, and made a key defensive play in leading his squad to victory over a higher-ranked team. What made his personal triumph all the more remarkable is that it came less than 48 hours after a great personal tragedy. This young man’s girlfriend had been killed when her Ford Bronco rolled over on Florida’s turnpike, tore through a guardrail, and dropped 25 feet into a canal. The baseball player attended the funeral mass for his girlfriend on a Friday morning, then was the hero of the game that afternoon. He said, “This was the hardest day of my life. And probably the best game of my life.”
On the cornerstone of an old church in England, these words are inscribed: “In the year 1653, when all things sacred in the kingdom were either profaned or demolished, this church was built by Sir Richard Shirley, whose singular praise it was to do the best of things in the worst of times.”
As a pastor, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by individuals who respond to negative situations with positive action. They meet overwhelming adversity with amazing ingenuity. They look for ways to redeem even the most hopeless circumstances. On the “hardest days” they seem to have their “best games.” Somehow they summon the courage “to do the best of things in the worst of times.”
I recently served for three years as a hospital chaplain in a trauma hospital in Houston, Tex. I came to identify with one of the characters in the popular television series “M*A*S*H”—the young Army clerk, Corporal O’Reilly. Of course, no one in the medical unit addressed him by his formal name. He acquired the nickname “Radar” because even in a noisy, hectic military camp he had the uncanny ability to hear helicopters from a great distance flying in with wounded soldiers.
Well, I developed “radar” of my own while serving as a hospital chaplain. Our institution had an air ambulance service called “Life Flight.” From any point in the hospital I could hear the roar of the helicopter as it approached the landing pad carrying its critically ill or wounded passenger.
My “radar” was sensitive not so much to the sound of the chopper as it was to the pain and suffering the chopper would bear. Patients transported by “Life Flight” were victims of every conceivable tragedy—natural disasters, industrial explosions and fires, gunshot wounds to the head (many of them self-inflicted), gruesome automobile accidents, dangerously premature births.
When I heard the dreaded sound of the helicopter, I knew I would be paged momentarily to the trauma unit, perhaps to offer a silent prayer for the patient in the midst of frantic emergency treatment, perhaps to keep vigil with the patient’s family members as they absorbed the shock of the incident and vacillated between hope and despair.
Late one night I was asked by the trauma team to be with the mother and father of a teenage girl who was blindsided in her car by a drunk driver. She had suffered irreversible head injuries and was given little chance to survive, much less to resume a normal life. As the parents poured out their anguish to me, I wept with them—in part because I, too, had a teenage daughter and felt my own vicarious anguish. Soon the attending physician entered the waiting room and began to speak to the parents in a halting, almost apologetic, way. He explained that they had done everything that could be done, but that their daughter’s injuries were too severe to overcome. She had just been pronounced brain dead. Later the doctor added, however, that her vital organs were still functioning because she remained on a respirator. Due to this unusual combination of circumstances, it was possible for their daughter to be an organ and tissue donor. The doctor proceeded to lay out the facts about donation without applying any pressure. He then offered to address their questions and concerns and give them adequate time to reach a decision.
For the next 45 minutes, this couple, already stricken with grief, struggled to make a decision they were unprepared to make. They had never thought about organ donation, for themselves or their loved ones. Now they were asked to make a decision regarding their own beloved child in the wake of a senseless tragedy, and to make it in the crucible of crisis.
The parents were initially skeptical and suspicious. They began to raise tough, even angry questions: Was their daughter’s death being hastened so that her body could be exploited for organs? No, the doctor replied emphatically. She was already dead by every clinical definition, and the decision to donate was entirely up to them. Would their daughter’s body be mutilated? Would it be possible for her casket to be open at her funeral? The doctor assured them that there would be no visible signs of the surgery to remove her organs and that an open casket would indeed by possible. She would be treated with utmost dignity and respect. Even so, the mother and father recoiled at the idea that any other physical damage might be done to their daughter. “Her body has already been through so much trauma,” the mother said. “I don’t know if I can stand putting her through anything else.” The father added, “I remember holding her as a newborn baby. I want her to go out of this world the same way she came in, with her body as intact as possible.”
The girl’s parents were religious people, and, not surprisingly, they also raised religious questions. Does the Bible shed any light on their dilemma? Is it possible to discern God’s will in this situation? Does their own church tradition encourage or discourage organ donation? The mother and father happened to be United Methodists like myself. I mentioned to them that our recent church pronouncements have strongly advocated organ and tissue donation as a “life-giving act.” Because the technology for transplants is a recent development, the Bible is, of course, silent about this specific issue. Christ gave us the comprehensive commandment to love one another as he has loved us, but he left it to individuals to apply the law of love in particular situations. I suggested to the couple that a decision either way could be interpreted as a loving decision.
The mother and father continued to struggle aloud about their options. Then they asked to have a few minutes to talk privately and come to a conclusion. The doctor and I left the room and conferred about our exchange with the couple. We both surmised that they would reject the option of organ donation. Their heads seemed to be saying, “Organ donation is a good and helpful thing to do.” But their hearts seemed to be saying, “Enough already! Let our daughter rest in peace.”
Soon the father signaled that they were ready to talk with us again. And to our amazement they announced that they were consenting to donate their daughter’s organs and tissues! I wondered to myself what caused them to overcome their caution and fear and reach a positive verdict. It wasn’t necessary to ask. The mother and father proceeded to tell us why they made this choice. They viewed their daughter’s death as a cruel, needless act. Nothing could make sense of it. Nothing could make her death good, in and of itself. But something good could come out of it. Their daughter’s death could provide the gift of life for someone else. Moreover, they decided that donating their daughter’s organs would be “life-giving” not only to a needy recipient, but to themselves as well. As parents they would find comfort and healing in the knowledge that their daughter’s death had not been a total waste, that part of her physical self would benefit someone else on the brink of death.
As a hospital chaplain, I counseled numerous families facing the option of organ donation. Many declined to donate, and I never presumed to judge their decisions. Their reasons for declining were varied. However, those who consented to donate all voiced the same reason. In each instance they saw an opportunity “to do the best of things in the worst of times.” They believed that their loved one’s death would not have to be useless; that their own loss would somehow be transformed into someone else’s gain; that their choice to donate would bring healing and life in the midst of death.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul makes the audacious claim that “In everything God works for good” (8:28). No matter how negative or hopeless our circumstances, says Paul, God can produce a positive result. God can always salvage something good out of something bad. For most of us, the acid test of this credo comes with death, especially a premature, tragic death. Can anything good possibly come from a death as unjust and untimely as the death of a teenage girl at the hands of a drunk driver? According to Paul, the potential for good is always there as long as God is present in our loss and sorrow, and God is always present!
But how is this potential realized? How, in practical terms, does God work for good even in the bleakest circumstances of life and death? Part of the answer is that God accomplishes his work through us. We are called to become God’s partners in the salvage business. As God empowers us “to do the best of things in the worst of times,” God’s redemptive purposes are realized.
Herein lies the deepest significance of a decision to donate organs and tissues. When we are faced with the worst of times—our own [imminent] death or the death of a loved one—we can choose to work with God in working for good. We can embody Christlike self-giving in the most tangible way possible. We can make our own deaths purposeful. Best of all, we can choose life for someone else. And we can make these choices now, while we are still able to think clearly and speak for ourselves, before we are incapacitated by crisis.
Frederick Buechner once compared the God of the Bible to the old alchemists—those ancient, primitive scientists who were always trying to take an inferior, impure material and transform it into gold. The testimony of faith is that God is able to pull it off! God can take even the worst—death itself—and somehow out of it bring the best. “In everything God works for good.” The wonder of it is that you and I can have a hand in this great work.
By the Rev. John Thomason