Question Time – What guidance does the scripture give regarding organ donation?

Question

What guidance does the scripture give regarding organ donation?

Answer

This is an extremely complex question and one regarding which I have no medical knowledge that would qualify me to give any response. It is a complex issue because some might be willing to donate replaceable things, such as blood or bone marrow, but would feel less inclined to agree to the transplanting of solid organs. Furthermore, is there a point beyond which it would not be right for medical expertise to intervene, if so what is that point? It is also a very sensitive issue, for it is almost certain that there will be readers of this magazine who are either the recipients of an organ, or are the donors of an organ. Each will have acted as they felt right before the Lord, and I trust that my answer will offend no one and encourage everyone.

The capability to carry out organ donation is a relatively recent breakthrough in medicine and so we would not expect to find an example of it in the scriptures. Therefore, to answer this question we have to focus on principles, although even that generates its difficulties.

Based on the apostle Paul’s teaching in the closing verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 6 some may take the view that as we do not have absolute rights over our bodies we do not have the authority to participate in organ donation or reception. Whilst that is a strong point we cannot ignore what the apostle wrote in his letter to the churches of Galatia, ‘For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me’, Gal. 4. 15 NKJV. Even if Paul is speaking figuratively I do not think he would have used an illustration that he considered to be contrary to biblical teaching.

There might be a minority of Christians who consider that it is not right to try to extend the duration of life, citing that ‘there is a time to be born and a time to die’. However, on that basis we would have to refuse all medical help, other than palliative care. That opinion would also be in conflict with the practice of the Saviour for, during His earthly ministry, we read that He ‘went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil’, Acts 10. 38. Each time the Lord healed He was extending the life of the individual concerned. However, there were many times Jesus healed not to extend life but to improve the quality of life. The man with the withered hand in the synagogue, the blind men on the road to Jericho, and the infirmed man at Bethesda did not necessarily have their lifespan increased, but the quality of their lives was improved beyond measure.

Those who believe that organ donation is justifiable might point to the scriptural exhortation that we should love one another, and one of the noblest ways in which this love can be demonstrated is through the willingness to donate an organ. We are also exhorted to love our enemies, and on three occasions in the Epistles we are told, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’, Rom. 13. 9; Gal. 5. 14; Jas. 2. 8. Therefore, many may be happy to donate organs to ensure the preservation or extension of life of someone they do not know and who may not be a believer.

Whilst I do not think that in principle organ donation is morally or scripturally wrong, ‘Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind’, and ‘Let us not therefore judge one another’, Rom. 14. 5 and 13. Of one thing we can be sure, whether we are donors or recipients of an organ, this will have no impact on our glorified bodies when the Lord returns for ‘We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed’, 1 Cor. 15. 51-52. Then, each of us will have bodies ‘fashioned like unto his glorious body’, Phil. 3. 21. ‘What a day of rejoicing that will be!’

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