How Do You (and Your Faith) See Organ Donation?

Why do some people become organ donors while others do not?

According to a recent survey by Donate Life America, 51 percent of Americans say they’re willing to donate their organs after death (though only 38 percent are registered organ donors), and 53 percent of registered donors say they made the decision to help others in need.

When the researchers spoke with those who are unwilling or reluctant to donate their organs, they found that the majority of them—52 percent—think doctors might not try as hard to save the lives of organ donors, and 61 percent erroneously think it’s possible for a brain dead person to recover. They also found that 8 percent believe organ donation is against their religion.

The truth is, the decision to donate organs and tissue is compatible with most religious beliefs. The Catholic Church has now long supported organ donation, mainstream Protestant denominations approve the practice, and the Rabbinical Council of America ruled organ donation permissible in the early 1990s. As David Fleming, president and CEO of Donate Life America, explains in a news release:

There are no known religions in the U.S. with a position against donation; rather, all major religions support organ donation as one of the highest expressions of compassion and generosity.

In the United Kingdom, where it has been tough to raise the number of organ donations, religious leaders have actively appealed to their followers and tried to clear up misconceptions. The Church of England says organ donation is a Christian duty. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales described it as a true act of generosity. The head of the UK Hindu Council said it was natural for Hindus to donate body parts, as well as goods, at the end of their lives. (BBC News)

And in Canada, Rabbi Reuven Bulka, chairman of the board of Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network, has suggested that the best way to get results is to promote organ donation as a religious responsibility. “We need to promote it as a religious fulfillment, as a religious imperative, as a religious obligation, as something we should be doing—to get away from this, ‘Aw, it’s OK,’” says Bulka. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s a life-saving thing to do.” (The Ottawa Citizen)


New Embryo Bank Would Solve Moral Dilemma

With approximately half a million embryos left over from in vitro fertilization now frozen and stored in fertility clinics, the question of what to do with them has become a big issue. Most of them will be discarded, donated for scientific research, or given to other couples. (For patients who can’t conceive using their own eggs, using pre-existing embryos is more cost-effective than an egg donor, researchers say.)
For some couples, however, none of those three options feel right—yet they can’t afford the hundreds of dollars a year its costs to store the embryos—so they’re left with a moral dilemma.
Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in California, thinks she has the answer. She wants to create an embryo bank that would take responsibility for these embryos. And perhaps religious groups that feel strongly about what happens to extra embryos can help cover the costs, she says. These groups, she tells the Religion News Service, “are against using embryos for research but … they are not offering another solution.” —Heather Wax


Hastings & Yale Form Bioethics Program

The Hastings Center and Yale University recently formed a joint ethics-and-health-policy program. The Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy will allow Yale faculty and Hastings scholars to share resources, host visiting scholars, and jointly sponsor student programs that deepen the understanding of bioethical issues.
The Hastings Center bills itself as the world’s first bioethics research institute. Its research program looks at the effects of advances in medicine and the life sciences. Yale’s Interdisciplinary Bioethics Center explores the ethical and social implications of biomedical and technological research, with a focus on religion and the environment.
The new program will hold its first public event this spring. — Kimberly Roots


Ballot Measure in Michigan

It looks like voters in Michigan have passed a ballot measure that will loosen the state’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution so that infertility patients in Michigan could donate their extra embryos for stem cell research, provided that the embryos would otherwise be discarded.
Deriving stem cell lines from embryos (which destroys the embryo) is legal under federal law, but a state law in Michigan prohibited the destruction of embryos in most cases. According to the University of Michigan, the state was one of the most restrictive in the country with regard to embryonic stem cell research.
The amendment will take effect on December 19. —Heather Wax